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.
- FROM THE ORLANDO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (MCO) Take FL 528/Beachline Expressway, a toll road, west for about 12 miles to the intersection with I-4. Bear right and go east 2 miles on I-4 to Exit 75A, marked “Universal/International Drive,” and make a left at the end of the exit ramp. Tolls should cost less than $4 one way, and we advise bringing a dollar or two in quarters in case you encounter an unstaffed toll booth along the way.
- FROM WALT DISNEY WORLD Go east on I-4, take Exit 75A, marked “Universal/International Drive,” and make a left at the end of the exit ramp.
- FROM DAYTONA, SANFORD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (SFB), OR ORLANDO Head west on I-4 through Orlando. Take Exit 74B towards Universal Orlando.
- FROM MIAMI, FORT LAUDERDALE, AND SOUTHEASTERN FLORIDA Head north on Florida’s Turnpike to exit 259 and merge onto I-4 west towards Tampa. Take exit 74B towards Universal Orlando.
- FROM TAMPA AND SOUTHWESTERN FLORIDA Take I-75 northbound to I-4. Go east on I-4, take 75A, marked “Universal/International Drive,” and make a left at the end of the exit ramp.
- FROM FLORIDA'S TURNPIKE SOUTHBOUND Take Exit 259 to merge onto I-4 West towards Tampa, then take Exit 74B towards Universal Orlando.
- FROM INTERSTATE 10 Take I-10 east across Florida to I-75 southbound at Exit 296A/Tampa; then take Florida’s Turnpike (toll road) southbound at Exit 328 (on the left) toward Orlando. Take Exit 259 to merge onto I-4 West towards Tampa, then take Exit 74B towards Universal Orlando.
- FROM INTERSTATE 75 SOUTHBOUND Take I-75 south onto Florida’s Turnpike via Exit 328 (on the left) toward Orlando. Take exit 259 to merge onto I-4 West towards Tampa, then take exit 74B towards Universal Orlando.
- FROM INTERSTATE 95 SOUTHBOUND Take Exit 260B to merge onto I-4 West, then take exit 74B towards Universal Orlando.
Universal Orlando Exits off I-4
West to east (in the direction of Tampa to Orlando), six I-4 exits serve Universal Orlando.
- EXIT 74A (Sand Lake Road) serves the southern edge of Universal's property, with access to the resort from Turkey Lake Road, which lies just west of the exit. This exit also provides access to the attractions on the southern end of International Drive, heading towards the convention center, as well as the “Restaurant Row” dining option on west Sand Lake Road. Be warned that this exit can get quite congested with I-Drive traffic.
- EXIT 74B (Adventure Way) is only accessible from I-4 westbound, and serves as the primary entrance to Universal Orlando Resort from that direction. The exit ramp leads directly to the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Make a right at the light past the hotel to reach the Universal Orlando parking garage. Note that you can't return to I-4 eastbound via this exit.
- EXIT 75A (Universal Boulevard/International Drive) serves as the primary entrance to Universal Orlando Resort from I-4 eastbound. Make a left at the end of the ramp into Universal property, and the parking garage will be ahead on your right. Make a right off this exit to take Universal Boulevard south across International Drive; it then parallels that busy road, making it a perfect bypass to south International Drive and the convention center.
- EXIT 75A (Kirkman Road South) is the confusingly-numbered exit accessible from I-4 westbound, which leads drivers to Kirkman Road just south of Universal, and several blocks east of the other 75A. It does not provide direct access to Universal Orlando, but is the closest exit to the shopping and attractions on north International Drive.
- EXIT 75B (Kirkman Road North) leads drivers north past the Kirkman Road entrance on the east side of Universal Orlando Resort. This is the closest exit to the Portofino Bay and Hard Rock hotels, as well as most off-site hotels within walking distance. Drivers coming from I-4 eastbound take a left-hand exit, and make an immediate left into the resort. Those coming from I-4 westbound have a barrier preventing the left, but can make a right onto Major Boulevard, followed by a quick U-turn back towards Universal. Alternatively, make the next left onto Vineland Road, then turn left onto Universal Boulevard to enter the resort from the north.
- EXIT 78 (Conroy Road/Millenia) is an option for westbound drivers when traffic is backed up approaching the Turnpike. Make a right off the exit (at the Holy Land religious theme park), then make an immediate left onto Vineland Road. Universal will be on your left immediately after crossing Kirkman Road.
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:
1. TAXI Mears Transportation Group (☎ 888-983-3346; mearstransportation.com) has a near-monopoly on taxi service in central Florida, and operates multiple brands (Yellow Cab Company, Checker Cab Company, and City Cab Company) with identical rates. Taxis carry four to eight passengers (depending on vehicle type). Rates vary according to distance. If your hotel is on Universal property, or nearby on International Drive or Major Boulevard, your fare will be about $45–$50, plus tip.
2. SHUTTLE SERVICE Mears Transportation Group (☎ 888-983-3346; mearstransportation.com) also dominates shared shuttle service, and provides the transportation for most vacation packages that include airport transfers. Non-package travelers can also use the service. The shuttles collect passengers until they fill a van (or bus). They’re then dispatched. Mears charges per-person rates (children under age 3 ride free). A one-way adult fare is $20 ($15 for children); round-trip is $32 for adults ($24 for children). Mears' competitor SuperShuttle (☎ 800-258-3826; supershuttle.com) also offers shared vans to Universal for a flat $18 per person each way; book online to save the $2 fee.
You might have to wait at the airport until a vehicle fills. Once under way, the shuttle will probably stop several times to discharge passengers before reaching your hotel. Obviously, it takes less time to fill a van than a bus, and less time to deliver and unload those passengers.
From your hotel to the airport, you’re likely to ride in a van (unless you’re part of a tour group, for which Mears might send a bus). Because shuttles make several pickups, they ask you to leave much earlier than you’d depart if you were taking a cab or returning a rental car.
3. TOWN-CAR SERVICE Like a taxi, town-car service will transport you directly from the airport to your hotel. The driver will usually be waiting for you in your airline’s baggage-claim area. If saving time and hassle is worth the money, book a town car. Each town-car service we surveyed offers large, well-appointed late-model sedans, such as the Lincoln Town Car series, or limousines. These hold four persons; trunks easily hold golf bags. Some services also offer roomier luxury SUVs and vans for an extra fee. To reserve a child’s car seat, call ahead.
Tiffany Towncar Service (☎ 888-838-2161 or 407-370-2196; tiffany towncars.com) provides a prompt, clean ride. The round-trip fee to the Universal area in a town car is $126 plus tip; one-way is $68. Tiffany offers a free 30-minute stop at a supermarket en route to your hotel with a round-trip booking.
Quicksilver Tours & Transportation (☎ 888-go-to-wdw [468-6939] or 407-299-1434; quicksilver-tours.com) offers eight-person limos and ten-person vans in addition to four-person town cars. Round-trip in a town car from MCO to the Universal area and back (with a free 30-minute grocery stop on the way) is $125; round-trip in a van costs $140; round-trip limo rate is $240. Quicksilver also offers a “3 Way Trip” from the airport to Walt Disney World, then to Universal Orlando, and finally back to the airport, starting at $170 – perfect for those splitting their vacation between the two resorts. Mears Transportation Group (☎ 407-423-5566; mearstransportation .com) also offers a town-car service for $120 to $145 round-trip, as does SuperShuttle (supershuttle.com) for $70 each way.
4. RENTAL CARS Short- and long-term rentals are available. Most companies allow drop-off at certain hotels or subsidiary locations in the Universal area if you don’t want the vehicle for your entire stay. Likewise, any time during your stay, you can pick up a car at those hotels and locations. Check mousesavers.com for rental-car discount codes.
The preferred routes to Universal Orlando (as well as Walt Disney World, International Drive, and US 192) all involve toll roads. Some roads require exact change to enter or exit via automated gates, and manned toll booths will not accept any denomination bill higher than a $20 bill. So before you leave the airport, make sure you’re armed with at least a couple of dollars in quarters and some lower-denomination currency.
5. RIDE SHARE SERVICES: This new and somewhat controversial option is represented in Orlando by the companies Uber and Lyft, both of which were successfully established in other cities before spreading to Central Florida in 2014. You start by downloading a service's app to your smartphone (Apple or Android) and registering an account with a form of payment. When you want to hail a ride, the app shows you what available drivers are nearby, and estimates the time and cost to your destination. You can follow your car's progress via GPS, and the tip is built into the price.
In other cities, the advantage to Uber and Lyft is that they charge about 40 to 30% less than a traditional taxi. Orlando, however, has mandated that ride-sharing services charge the same per-mile as taxis, negating their price advantage. In addition, the ride share companies are not currently authorized to operate on Orlando International Airport property (as scary signage warns arriving visitors on their way to baggage claim), and are in litigation with the airport authority over their status.
If you've used Uber or Lyft elsewhere and are comfortable with them, consider using them in Orlando. We've had nothing but positive experiences with them so far, but your mileage may vary.
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.
The I-Ride Trolley (☎ 407-248-9590; iridetrolley.com) is a cheap convenient transportation 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 Disney World, Universal Orlando has a number of nearby off-site hotels that are within walking distance of the resort's attractions. 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.
Parking at Universal Orlando
Universal is home to two massive multistory parking garages, holding a combined total of 20,000 cars. According to Forbes, they form the world's largest parking complex, dwarfing Disney Springs' 6,000-space garages. Signs route you from all four resort entrances 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:
- Self Parking Parking in the main garage costs $17 for cars and $22 for RVs, trailers, and other large rigs. Regular parking drops to $5 between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. and is free after 10 p.m. (Evening discounts start later during Halloween and other event nights). Parking is free for Preferred and Premier annual passholders, and Florida residents with photo ID get free parking from 6 p.m. on.
- Preferred Self Parking For $25 you will be parked on the garages' central level in the closest available section to the central hub. These are spots are supposed to be the second closest to the parks, after the handicapped parking section. However, we’ve scored spaces just as good or better using the regular parking, especially when we’ve arrived before 10:30 a.m. Because the garages are two-thirds as wide as they are long, the farther your parking place is from the west side, the worse it will be. This is why preferred parking is often not as close as regular parking – with the former, you’ll be closer to the covered walkways to the parks, but if your particular space is toward the east side of the garage, you’ll end up farther away than a guest who chose regular parking and was assigned a space closer to the west side of the structure. An advantage of preferred parking, however, is that you’ll park faster because the ratio of cars choosing preferred to regular is about 1 to 13. Preferred parking is free for Premier annual passholders, and costs Preferred passholders $8.
Valet Parking In addition to the self-parking garages, valet parking is available at CityWalk for $15 for a visit of up to 2 hours, or $35 for longer than that ($30 if arriving after 6 p.m.). Red Carpet Valet costs $45 and guarantees your car will be kept close for a quick exit at the end of your evening. The entrance to the valet parking circle is on Universal Boulevard, across the street from the parking garages' taxi and bus loop. After dropping off your car, ascend the escalator adjacent to the miniature golf course and turn right to enter CityWalk.
Premier passholders valet park for free (tip not included; not valid New Year's Eve, July 4th, or Mardi Gras and Halloween event nights) or can upgrade to Red Carpet for $15; Preferred passholders can valet for $15, or use Red Carpet for $25. Select CityWalk restaurants will validate for up to 2 hours of valet if you eat lunch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays. Stay past two hours and you'll be charged full freight. And be warned that if you imbibe too much and have to leave your car at valet overnight, you'll have to pay a $50 fine in the morning.
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 directional 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 garaage 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.
Last updated by Seth Kubersky on June 27, 2015