Getting to Universal Orlando's Resorts and Theme Parks

Directions to Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando is located within the Orlando city limits, a short distance from Interstate 4 (I-4) and Florida's Turnpike. You can access the resort from eastbound I-4 by taking Exit 75A and turning left at the top of the ramp onto Universal Boulevard. If you’re traveling westbound on I-4, use Exit 74B and then turn right on Hollywood Way. There are also entrances off Kirkman Road (Exit 75B) to the east, Turkey Lake Road to the west, and Vineland Road to the north. Universal Boulevard connects the International Drive area to Universal via an overpass bridging I-4. Turkey Lake and Vineland Roads are particularly good alternatives when I-4 is gridlocked.

Signs for Universal's hotels and theme parks are easy to find and read as soon as you've left the highway. Once on Universal property, follow the signs to the parking garage or your hotel.

Universal Orlando Exits off I-4

West to east (in the direction of Tampa to Orlando), six I-4 exits serve Universal Orlando.

Driving Directions to Universal's Resorts and Theme Parks

Google Maps driving directions from Orlando International Airport to Universal's Hard Rock Hotel

Airport to Universal's Royal Pacific Resort

Airport to Universal's Portofino Bay Resort

Airport to Universal's theme park parking

GETTING TO Universal Orlando FROM THE AIRPORT

You have five options for getting from Orlando International to Universal Orlando:

Dollars and Sense

Which option is the best deal depends on how many people are in your party and how much you value your time. If you’re traveling solo or have only two in your party and you’re pretty sure you won’t need a rental car, the shuttle is your least expensive bet. A cab for two makes sense if you want to get to your hotel faster than the shuttle can arrange. The cab will cost about $50–$55, including tip. That’s $25–$28 per person. The shuttle will cost $20 each (one-way), saving $5–$8 per person. You must decide whether the cab’s timeliness and convenience are worth the extra bucks.

A one-day car rental costs $40–$70, plus you have to take time to complete the paperwork, get the vehicle, and fill the tank before you return it. The more people in your group, the more economical the cab becomes over the shuttle. Likewise with the rental car, though the cab or ride share will get you there faster.

Getting to Universal Orlando from Walt Disney World

Driving from Walt Disney World to Universal Orlando along I-4 takes about 15 minutes with light traffic, or as much as 40 minutes during rush hour. If you’re staying at Walt Disney World and you don’t have a car, Mears Transportation will shuttle you from your hotel to Universal and back for $20. Pickup and return times are at your convenience. To schedule a shuttle, call ☎ 855-463-2776.

Taxis and ride share services (Uber and Lyft) are also readily available to and from the resorts. A one-way taxi ride is between $35 and $45 (plus tip) depending on which Disney hotel you are leaving from, and may be cheaper than a shuttle if you have three to five people. All transportation services drop off at and pick up from the lower level of Universal's main parking hub, from which you can walk to CityWalk and the parks.

Super Star Shuttle

Universal offers free scheduled transportation to SeaWorld, Wet 'n Wild, and Aquatica for its on-site hotel guests via the Super Star Shuttle. Departure and return times are limited, and based on regular park operating hours; typically there are up to a half-dozen trips each way to SeaWorld, and only a couple in either direction to the water parks, but during slow season there may be only a single trip scheduled each way. Boarding passes are required and available at the ticket desk in each hotel lobby, between one day in advance and 30 minutes prior to departure. The Super Star Shuttle picks up guests directly at Universal's three luxury hotels; guests at Cabana Bay must transfer to the parking hub and catch the shuttle there.

Off-Site Hotel Shuttles

Many independent hotels and motels near Universal Orlando provide free shuttle buses to the resort. Some properties participate in the same Super Star Shuttle program that services Universal's on-site hotels, while others operate their own transportation. The shuttles are fairly carefree, depositing you at the parking garages' central hub and saving you parking fees. The rub is that they might not get you there as early as you desire (a critical point if you take our touring advice) or be available when you wish to return to your lodging. Each service is different; check details before you make reservations.

Some shuttles go directly to Universal, while others stop at other hotels en route. This can be a problem if your hotel is the second or third stop on the route. During periods of high demand, buses frequently fill up at the first stop, leaving little or no room for passengers at subsequent stops. Before booking, inquire how many hotels are on the route and the sequence of the stops. The different hotels are often so close together that you can easily walk to the first hotel on the route and board there. Similarly, if there’s a large hotel nearby, it might have its own dedicated bus service that is more efficient. Use it instead of the service provided by your hotel. The majority of Universal-area shuttles work on a fixed schedule, typically with 3 or 4 departures in the morning, and a similar or smaller number of returns around closing. Knowing exactly when a bus will depart makes it easier to plan your day.

At closing or during a hard rain, more people will be waiting for the shuttle than it can hold, and some will be left behind. Most shuttles return for stranded guests, but guests may wait 20 minutes to more than an hour.

If you’re depending on shuttles, leave the park at least 45 minutes before closing. If you stay until closing and don’t want the hassle of the shuttle, take a cab. Cab stands located on the lower level of the main parking hub, near the bus stops.

I-Ride Trolley

The I-Ride Trolley (☎ 407-248-9590; iridetrolley.com) is a cheap convenient trasportation system servicing the International Drive area. Cheerful trolley-shaped buses circulate from the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets on the south side of town, up to the hotels near Universal on Major Boulevard, with stops at SeaWorld, the Orange County Contention Center, and Wet 'n Wild along the way. A single one-way fare costs $2 for adults ($1 for kids 3-9; $0.25 for seniors 65+) and must be paid in cash using exact change. You can pre-purchase unlimited ride passes for 1 day ($5) to 14 days ($18) via the website or at participating hotels and attractions listed at http://www.iridetrolley.com/passes.asp.

The only problem with the I-Ride Trolley is that it doesn't stop at Universal Orlando. The closest stop is at the DoubleTree hotel on the corner of Kirkman Road and Major Boulevard (marked G4 on the trolley route map). From there you can walk to the Universal parks (see below).

Walking to Universal Orlando

Unlike at at Disney World, there are a number of off-site hotels near Universal Orlando that are within walking distance of the resort. The closest off-site hotels to Universal are along Major Boulevard near the intersection with Kirkman Road, at the eastern entrance to Universal property. The DoubleTree hotel on this corner isn't much further from Universal's parks than the on-site Portofino Bay. To reach the parks from this area, cross Kirkman at Major from the northeast corner, and follow the sidewalks to Universal Boulevard; cross Universal and turn left, then walk to the escalators leading up to CityWalk from the valet parking circle. You should be able to walk the half-mile from the DoubleTree to CityWalk in about 15 minutes.

Further away, but still within walking distance, are the hotels and motels on International Drive near Universal Boulevard, just south of the resort. This route requires walking north along Universal, over the I-4 overpass, and into the bus and taxi parking loop on the lower level of the parking hub. While there are sidewalks and pedestrian traffic signals the entire way, this is at least a ¾-mile walk alongside busy traffic, and isn't recommended for families with young children.

The Public-Transportation Alternative

Some off-site hotel shuttles don’t operate early enough to get you to the parks before opening. An alternative is the LYNX public bus system, which costs $2 (exact change required) for a single one-way fare, with discounted all-day, week, and month passes available for advance purchase online.

If you’re staying in downtown Orlando, you can take the LYNX #21 or #40 bus from the central bus station to Universal's parking garage. To reach Walt Disney World, take LYNX #8 from Wet 'n Wild (or the I-Ride Trolley from Kirman and Major) to SeaWorld, then transfer to LYNX #50 to the Magic Kingdom's Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). The buses run daily from hours before the parks open until long past closing, in order to accommodate commuting employees. Precise hours of service vary depending on where along the route you are. Use the online trip planner at golynx.com or call ☎ 407-841-lynx for travel information.

Getting Oriented

Parking at Universal Orlando

Universal is home to two massive multistory parking garages, holding a combined total of 20,000 cars. They were among country's largest parking complexes, at least until Disney Springs' gargantuan garages came along. Signs from all resort four entrances route you to the parking structures.

Tip: When the toll booths before the garages are backed up, the furthest left lane is often the swiftest.

The two rectangular garages lie along a north-n-south axis, with the pedestrian walkways leading to the theme parks running along the west, or long, side of each building. Sections are named for classic Universal movies and characters found in the parks – Jurassic Park, King Kong, Jaws in the north garage, and E.T., Spider-Man, and Cat in the Hat in the south structure. The first numeral of the number following the section name tells you what deck level you’re on, and the remaining numbers specify the row. So if a sign tells you that you’re on King Kong 410, you’re in the King Kong section on the fourth floor in Row 10. We strongly recommend that you take a photo of the name and number of your section, level, and row.

Guests driving to Universal Orlando's attractions have three parking options:

Guest Drop-Off

If you aren't parking at the resort, but only dropping off passengers, find the Universal Boulevard entrance to the taxi and bus loop beneath the central parking hub, across the street from valet parking. This is also the best spot to pick up departing guests at the end of the day. Some guests try to use the valet parking circle for this purpose, but it is officially not permitted.

Another option is to drop off at the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel, which is a short walk from USF's front gates if you cut through the pool; however, you can't backtrack through the pool at the end of the day without a resort keycard.

Speaking of the hotels, don't attempt to save money by parking at one of the resorts. Unless you are eating at a hotel restaurant that validates for valet, off-site guests are charged a hefty fee for parking at the hotels.

Finding your way around

Unlike at Disney parks, there are no parking trams, so depending on where in the garage your car is parked, you’ll have an 8- to 20-minute hike to the theme park entrances. From the garages, (sometimes) moving sidewalks deliver you first to the central hub between the two garages. In this area, you'll find wheelchair rentals, a snack and souvenir stand, and escalators leading down to bus and taxi parking. To proceed to CityWalk and the parks, you'll need to pass through a security screening checkpoint; stay to the left if you have no bags that need inspection.

Upon exiting the parking structure, you'll pass the AMC Cineplex on your right, and Starbucks (always open early for that essential morning caffeine jolt) on your left, before reaching CityWalk's central plaza. From here, you walk straight towards the lighthouse to reach the main entrances of Islands of Adventure, or bear right at the Fossil store towards the big globe for Universal Studios Florida's front gate.

Tip: You can cut through the Quiet Flight Surf Shop (which exits into the Island Clothing Company) as a shortcut to USF.

Transportation Between Universal Resorts and Theme Parks

Universal offers water taxi service between each of its on-site hotels (except Cabana Bay) and the two theme parks. The boat service uses a dock in CityWalk near the bridge to USF as a hub, which is great if you're going from one of the hotels to a theme park. If you're traveling between hotels for a meal, however, you'll need to switch boats. Boats depart about every 15 minutes, from one hour before Early Park Entry begins until after CityWalk shuts down at 2 a.m.; allow 20 to 25 minutes for each leg of your journey by boat.

Universal also offers a shuttle bus service that circulates between its luxury hotels, which is often faster than its boats for getting from one resort to another; tell the driver your destination when boarding. In addition, nicely themed buses frequently run between Cabana Bay Beach Resort and the parking hub, from which you must walk to CityWalk or the theme parks.

Finally, walking from any resort hotel to either theme park takes a maximum of about 15 minutes using the resort's beautifully landscaped (though frustratingly winding) garden pathways. Hard Rock Hotel is the closest to the parks, being only steps away from Universal Studios Florida's front gates, while Portofino and Cabana Bay are the furthest. To walk between the two hotels farthest apart, Portofino and Cabana Bay, takes 25 to 35 minutes. You'll find more about Universal Orlando resort transportation in the Hotels section.

Leaving Universal Orlando

At the end of your visit, retrace your steps to your vehicle and follow direction signage to depart the resort. From the south garage, you have little option but to follow the arrows to I-4 or International Drive. If you exit the north exit onto Universal Boulevard, you can reach I-4 westbound by turning right onto Major Boulevard, then right on Kirkman Road; reach I-4 eastbound by making a U-turn onto Universal Boulevard southbound at Major Boulevard, then turn left onto the interstate after passing the garage.