This page tells how to get oriented at Universal's theme parks, and how to tour each park efficiently. For those wanting more specific touring advice, we've created Universal Studios touring plans and Islands of Adventure touring plans, for adults, parents with small children, parents with 'tweens, and seniors. For those who want to create their own custom, computer-optimized touring plans, our online touring plan software is the place to start.
Getting Oriented at Universal Studios
Universal Studios Florida is laid out like the letter P. The park entrance sits at the bottom of a long boulevard, while most of the shows and attractions are located in an oval around a man-made lagoon. Each area has a name and theme, although it's sometimes difficult to say just where one area stops and another begins.
Beginning at the park entrance and going clockwise, the first area you'll encounter is Production Central, which includes the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Shrek 4-D attractions. At the top of the P is the New York area, including Twister and Revenge of the Mummy.
Next is San Francisco, with two attractions and four restaurants; World Expo, with Men in Black Alien Attack and The Simpsons Ride, and Woody Woodpecker's KidZone, containing E.T Adventure, two stage shows, a small roller coaster and several play areas. The last themed area, near the front of the park, is Hollywood, featuring Universal Orlando's Horror Make Up Show, Terminator 2: 3-D, Lucy-A Tribute, and two restaurants.
Guests orient themselves by the major rides, sets, and landmarks and refer, for instance, to "New York," "the waterfront," "over by E.T.," or "by Mel's Diner." The area of Universal Studios Florida open to visitors is about the size of Epcot.
Touring Universal Studios Florida
Touring the Studios is not as complicated as Islands of Adventure, but the Studios has its own set of issues to deal with. Chief among these is that three of the park's more popular attractions are located directly past the park's entrance turnstiles: Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Families flock to these attractions from the moment the gates open, and gradually make their way to the back of the park an hour or so later.
Crowds at the front of the park will only get worse once the new Transformers: The Ride-3D opens later in 2013. Although the ride's entrance is on the side of the building which faces the lagoon, exits are supposed to be located on the building's other three sides, which should result in large crowds being dumped into the area around Despicable Me, Shrek and Rip Ride Rockit.
Until Transformers opens, if you arrive at park opening, your best strategy is to try to see any two of those three attractions at the front of the park, and leave the other for the afternoon when crowds will start to leave the park. Out touring plan software indicates that seeing Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Shrek 4-D in the morning is the most efficient tour, with a visit to Despicable Me in the afternoon, after you've experienced the rest of Universal's attractions and shows.
If you arrive after park opening, you'll almost always be admitted to the next performance of any stage show or live performance. Our advice is to visit these, and check the wait times of nearby attractions as you go from one show to another. If time permits before the show, get in line for any attraction with a wait time of 20 minutes or less. Otherwise, try to see these attractions after 4 pm, when crowds should be lower.
Getting Oriented at Universal's Islands of Adventure
IOA is accessed via the same Universal CityWalk entertainment complex as Universal Studios. After crossing CityWalk from the parking garages, walking straight through CityWalk toward the Emeril's Orlando restaurant. Continue walking straight ahead until you see signs for IOA's entrance.
IOA's themed lands are arranged in a circle around a central lake. You first encounter the Moroccan-style Port of Entry, where you'll find Guest Services, lockers, stroller and wheelchair rentals, ATM banking, lost and found, and shopping. From the Port of Entry, moving clockwise around the lagoon, you can access Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.
There is no in-park transportation to move you between lands. Some of the pathways, such as those in Toon Lagoon, can be confusing. If you're traveling clockwise, keep the lagoon on your right as you make your way through the park; keep the water to your left if you're going counter-clockwise. Depending on where you're at in the park, the green twists and loops of the Incredible Hulk Coaster or the Gothic spires of Hogwarts can be used as visual cues as to your location too.
Touring Islands of Adventure
Touring IOA is a bit more complicated than Universal Studios if you're not staying at a Universal resort. Since Universal resort guests are admitted into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, lines will already have formed by the time day guests are allowed into the park.
If you're staying at a Universal resort, our advice is to take advantage of that extra early morning hour, and see the attractions in The Wizarding World first thing. When you're done with those, visit The Incredible Hulk Coaster and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, in that order.
If you are not staying at a Universal resort and you're visiting on a day of moderate or busy attendance, you may find shorter waits if you ride Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge in the late afternoon. Try Hulk, Dr. Doom's Fearfall and Spider-Man in the morning, then the Bilge-Rat Barges, Ripsaw Falls and Jurassic Park boat rides. Save the shows for after lunch.
During the busiest times of year, Universal may open early both The Incredible Hulk Coaster and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride to Universal resort guests, up to an hour before regular park guests are admitted into the park.