Tips for planning your first Universal Orlando Holiday

Universal Studios Orlando is an epic adventure but can be somewhat daunting to plan as I found out last October.

I visited for a week so I had to be super organised and make sure that I used my time wisely.

Coordinating two parks can be a little tricky at the best of times, without having to fight crowds to visit your favourite spots and rides.

Thankfully, due to much research we had the best time at Universal and I picked up lots of tips and tricks along the way to pass on to you.

In this extensive post I will take you through my top tips for visiting Universal Orlando for the first time.

How to get to Universal Resort Orlando?

Visiting all the parks is actually really simple as everything is signposted, plus driving an automatic in the USA is a dream compared to manual here in the UK.

Ultimately, getting to Universal all depends on your mode of transport, if you’re hiring a car then you can drive. If you’re staying at certain resorts there are scheduled buses or if you are on International Drive you can catch a designated bus. Let’s break it down.

Stay at Universal Resorts
My top tip, if budget allows, is to stay at one of the Universal Resorts. We stayed at Cabana Bay Beach Resort which is a few minutes’ ride away from City Walk.

What’s great about these hotels is that you get regular shuttle buses to and from City Walk, so you don’t have to think about a thing, other than rocking up to the bus station. These buses go every 10 minutes or so.

Stay at Aventura, or any of the Lowes Hotels; Sapphire Falls , Royal Pacific , Portofino Bay and there are shuttle boats, talk about arriving in style. Hard Rock Hotel is located in City Walk so you only have to walk a couple of minutes to the entrance.

There are different value hotels and with the arrival of the Surfside Resort this Summer, you’ll be able to stay at a much more budget friendly price.

Something to consider if you are going at a peak time is to opt to stay at Hard Rock, Lowes Portofino or Lowes Royal Pacific Resorts as you get a free Universal Unlimited Express pass.

These can cost $150 plus per person, it may be worth the extra cost to not have to wait in lines.

Where do you park at Universal Resorts Orlando?

So you are staying outside of the resort and want to drive to Universal for the day, how do you actually do this?

Well, first tip is to get there as early as you can. The parking lot is absolutely colossal, if you don’t want to add another 20 minutes walk onto your already marathon walking day, this is key. From the entrance of City Walk it takes 15 minutes to walk to the actually entrance of Universal.

A day’s parking will cost $25. If you want to splash a bit of cash and secure yourself a space nearer to City Walk entrance, opt for the Prime Parking which costs $40. Now this can start to add up if you are visiting for several days so you may want to factor this into planning.

Make sure you type the address of 6000 Universal Blvd into your Sat Nav as I’ve heard stories of people following signs to the employees car park! Not how anyone wants to start their morning.

Also, parking is free after 6pm, unless Halloween Horror Nights is on then normal rules apply, but if you fancy visiting for a couple of hours and have food in City Walk this is nice to know.


How to visit Universal by taxi or bus?

If you are staying off of International Drive, the most convenient option would be to download Uber or Lyft and take Taxis as they are relatively inexpensive.

You could ask your hotel whether they offer a bus shuttle service as most of the major hotels will. However, if you are using the city buses these do have a lot of stops along the way and some won’t actually drop you at City Walk so you may have to walk part of the journey.

Universal Orlando Tickets Tips

Park to Park

Always buy a Park to Park ticket so that you can hop between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures throughout your days. You need this ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express in between the parks.

Buy with American Express

If you are an American Express customer, make sure you buy your Universal tickets with this card as you can take advantage of the AMEX lounge in Universal Studios.

It has bottles of water, some small snacks and just a quiet place to take 5 away from the hustle and bustle of the park. If you’re going to buy them anyway, you might as well have a perk for doing so.

Collecting Tickets

To collect your tickets, you will need to head to the electronic collection kiosks. There are situated to the left of both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures. When we visited City Walk the night before, we went over and printed them then which meant no faffing around the following morning.

Usually, you can enter the park 15 minutes earlier than the stated opening time if you get there super early. It’s a great way to beat the crowds to the top rides, especially to Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Be careful with your tickets

Will and I had a situation on our second day. Having been on Popeye, Will lost his ticket on the ride (as you do!) You need the same ticket to get in every day which firstly, is just a small flimsy card and secondly has your details imprinted on the ticket.

We went to customer services and got Will another ticket. However, it caused all sorts of issues at the gate which meant we were waiting around for 20 minutes whilst they tried to sort it out. Long story short, it didn’t.

What to wear to Universal Studios?

T-shirts, Shorts, and dresses

Orlando gets pretty humid and hot in the Summer and when you are queueing up in that heat all day you need to dress light. I visited in the fall (late October) and wore shorts and a tee everyday.

Jumper or Cardigan

I found that the temperature in the evening tends to drop off and I got cold really quick so I packed a cardigan. Also, all the restaurants and bars will have the A/C blasting which can bring on the goosebumps.

Avoid Denim

One thing I did not account for was denim and water.

I wore Denim shorts to Universal and we decided to go on the water rides as it was ridiculously hot. After getting drenched on Popeye, I realised that Denim takes forever to dry and it went cold and I was miserable for the remaining hours.


Take a small back pack with you if you can. I noticed that some of the rides require you to store your belongings and these storage units are really small.

I took a small backpack and I struggled to get that in at times. There are bigger units but you may have to wait for these to become available.


It goes without saying but wear the most comfortable shoes you can as you will walk and queue all day. Random, but the most comfortable trainers I own are the Adidas Ultra Boosts.

What to pack in your day bag?

Refillable Water Bottle

Always take a water bottle. The prices for drinks are on the pricey side and there are tons of fountains dotted around the park, make use of this freebie.


I accidentally forgot my sunglasses one day, one of the worst items to forget when you’re standing in line facing the Orlando Sun.

Sun Lotion

Sun Lotion is 100% a must as I found out. I completely forgot to take any with me and I was frazzled by the October sun!! I didn’t realise it was still hot in October, so if you are visiting in the heat of the summer you’re going to need it.

Fan or Face Mist

I wish I had taken a handheld fan or face mist to help cool down when waiting in those long lines.

Smart Phone

We all like to capture these special moments but even I left my DSLR at home and opted for my IPhone. If you have a small handheld camera then pack this but if you plan to go on rides leave the chunky kit at home.

Best rides at Universal Studios

  • Escape from Gringotts in Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  • Race through New York with Jimmy Fallon

  • The Mummy

Best Rides at Island of Adventures

  • The Incredible Hulk

  • Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Universal Wait Times - how to beat the crowds?

Download the Universal Studios App to your phone, this was a life saver for us to plan out our day. It was accurate as well, which surprised me as many can be hit and miss. For Halloween Horror nights this was particularly useful as those evenings are hectic so a great way of organising which house to go to.

You can set timers on the App so I added 15 minutes for most the rides as I hate queueing. It alerts you when any of the rides hit that time.

Visit Harry Potter first or later in the evening, especially if you are staying at a resort hotel as you enjoy a whole hour without the general public.

It gets busy for the majority of the day, the Hogwarts train, in particular. However, we noticed that by 6pm it was starting to filter out and all the wait times reduced dramatically.

The Incredible Hulk is busy most of the day too as it’s the first ride you come to at Islands of Adventures so you may want to ride it first thing or later in the day.

Are there other Things to do at Universal other than rides?

In most groups there is always one person who isn’t too happy about being flung around at 60mph so is happy to hold the bags or take care of younger children. I’ve been asked several times “Is there anything else to do at Universal other than rides?”, the short answer, ‘Of course”.

Both parks have performances throughout the day, as well as parades, character meet and greets and other fun, random things to do.

Universal Studios

The Blues Brothers

Looking for live music head over to the New York area of the park (opposite the Mummy Ride) and you can enjoy a little funk and jazz.

Cinematic Celebration

A light projection show in the main lagoon. Expect iconic film music and much loved characters projected on to the lagoon with dancing fountains.

Superstar Parade

Have a jiggle with superstar characters as they weave their way through the park. I found the view by the Minions ride pretty decent.

Diagon Alley - Tales of Beedle the Bard and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.

Anything to do with Harry Potter and I am sold, but these performances are brilliant. The acting, set designs and costumes are wonderful so definitely make time to watch at least one of the performances.

Performance Schedule

Islands of Adventures

Hogsmeade - Frog Choir, Nighttime Lights Show at Hogwarts Castle, Triwizard Spirit Rally

As stated above, the Harry Potter performances were my favourite at the park. I particularly enjoyed the Triwizard Spirit Rally.

Mystic Fountain

Interactive water fountain, if you tell it it’s your birthday you may get a surprise.

Character Meets - Spiderman, Marvel Heroes and Villains

Performance Schedule 

Phew you reached the end! I know it’s a lengthly post but I’d rather give you all the tips I can think of so your trip runs as smooth Doc’s DeLorean.

As always, give me a comment below and let me know what you are most looking forward to or if you have any further questions.

Enjoy Universal - it is truly spectacular!

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