What to expect When you Arrive at the Parks (Rope Drop)

Because most touring plans are based on being present when the theme park opens, you need to know about opening procedures. Universal Orlando on-site resort transportation to the parks via buses and water taxis begins 2 hours before official opening, or 1 hour before Early Park Admission. Guests staying on-site during peak periods will want to catch the first ride of the morning (or start walking around the time it leaves) in order to be the first into the Wizarding World during the early entry period. Off-season visitors should arrive at the gates 10 to 20 minutes before Early Park Admission begins.

The parking garage also opens 2 hours before official opening, but on days of exceptional attendance (like the grand opening of Diagon Alley, or the free One Direction concert in 2014) the garage has opened as early as 3 a.m. If you are driving to the resort and not eligible for Early Park Admission, plan to arrive at the Universal parking garage between 45 and 60 minutes prior to official opening. If you need to purchase park admission, add another 15 minutes on to that. It takes approximately 15 minutes to walk from the parking garage to the parks' entrance turnstiles, so you should arrive at the turnstiles 30 to 45 minutes before the park opens. There are fewer turnstiles at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure than at Disney's Magic Kingdom or Epcot, and the turnstiles are not spread out over as much ground. Consequently, lines will tend to be evenly distributed at each turnstile. If you see a shorter line, however, get in it.

Universal's turnstiles use a biometric scanner that will record your fingerprint when using your ticket for the first time. Be sure to remember which finger you used to speed reentry. You'll also be asked to sign your pass, so that you don't mix it up with other family members'. Universal's finger scanners don't seem nearly as efficient as the ones Disney uses, so be prepared for slowdowns at entry.

Rope Drop at Universal Studios Florida

USF team members select a “first family” from the early risers at the turnstiles each morning, and usher them in a few minutes early to open the park with an old-fashioned movie clapboard. It's no Magic Kingdom character welcome, but it is a cute moment worth catching if you can.

Once the gates open, there is no mad dash for Diagon Alley, nor is a literal rope dropped. When USF's turnstiles open for early park admission, resort guests walk straight towards Despicable Me, and are walked to the Wizarding World via San Francisco. Day guests are diverted to the right down Hollywood, where they are held until shortly before the official opening. At that time, they are walked to Diagon Alley through Springfield.

Most of the crowd will head for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Gringotts ride, which usually sees its longest waits between opening and early afternoon. Despicable Me, which is located a short distance past the entrance, also attracts large crowds, as do Transformers 3-D and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. A smaller number of visitors will head for The Simpsons Ride or The Mummy, but these attractions usually don't get crowded until an hour or two after the park is open.

Rope Drop at Islands of Adventure

The turnstiles to Islands of Adventure may open as much as 30 minutes prior to official opening, depending on the season, allowing guests into the Port of Entry area. Once released into the park, most guests turn counterclockwise through Seuss Landing make a beeline for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade as soon as the park is open. Locals who've already had their fill of Potter and coaster fans will head clockwise for The Incredible Hulk Coaster and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

Unless you have early entry, our advice is to see Hulk and Spider-Man first and save The Wizarding World until late afternoon. Note that during normal operations, guests arriving at IOA on the first Hogwarts Express train from USF will reach Hogsmeade at the same time or slightly after those entering from the front gates.