Plan It or Wing It: Universal Orlando Resort

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Planning a vacation can be overwhelming experience between coordinating flights, park hours, hotels, and reservations. Thankfully Universal Orlando allows for a more flexible planning experience than the mouse house, letting guests wing some choices. In this article we will list three things you can decide to wing it during your vacation and three things you should still plan prior to your arrival. These recommendations pair perfectly with a personalized touring plan.

Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort. Photo copyright Universal Orlando.

PLAN IT: Your Hotel Accommodations

This one is a gimme: book your hotel ahead of time. Universal Orlandos’s hotels are easy to book online and offer great value for the money, outstanding amenities, and free of charge cancellations up to seven days before the reservation. By booking ahead of time you can lock in a guaranteed rate and rebook if the rate drops. Booking early also guarantees you the best resort for your needs.

For more details on Universal Orlando’s hotels visit our Do’s and Don’ts of Universal Orlando article and the TouringPlans Universal hotels basics page.

Bigfire American Fare. Photo copyright Universal Orlando.

WING IT: Dining Reservations

Disney fans know the drill: wake up at 7:00 a.m. and book 180 days in advance from the start of your trip. Rinse, repeat. While day-of reservations are not impossible to find, most of the big name restaurants book up quickly for desired dining times. Want to eat at Chef Mickey’s? Be prepared to book early and be flexible.

Thankfully Universal’s dining capacity more closely matches guest demand, allowing for day-of walk-ups and day-of dining reservations. Most restaurants in the parks and CityWalk are able to seat walk-up parties throughout the day. Some restaurants like the popular Toothsome only accept walk-ups. There is an exception: character meals and the Wantilan Luau do require advance purchase.

For menus, reservations, and tickets to character meals visit the Universal Orlando dining website.

PLAN IT: Your Admission and Passes

By far the easiest way to save time and money is to purchase your admission, ExpressPass, and other tickets prior to arriving at Universal Orlando, preferably online. Online tickets purchased through Universal Orlando or an authorized reseller like Undercover Tourist do not require redemption at the park. Simply walk up to the turnstiles and scan.

Online admission prices start at $20 cheaper than purchasing at the park, with Halloween Horror Nights tickets offered up to $52 off. Universal also frequently offers admission offers such as “buy three day pass and receive two additional days free” and “buy three day pass and receive Volcano Bay for free”. For the best prices and ticket offers visit the Universal Orlando ticket website.

WING IT: ExpressPass Attraction Selections

With My Disney Experience and FastPass+ a whole new level of planning was added to a Walt Disney World vacation. Parks are to be planned out day by day with hour windows to experience attractions. Universal goes the other route by offering a for purchase anytime line skipping option called ExpressPass. Show your ExpressPass participating attractions entrances and enter a special line that guarantees to reduce your wait by at least half the posted standby wait.

ExpressPasses are available in one-time-per-attraction and unlimited varieties, with the option of adding the option to use it at more than one park a day. Unlimited ExpressPass for both parks is included with your stay at the Premier resorts (Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific).

PLAN IT: Which Attractions to Experience

While Universal’s attractions skew towards the older, thrill-seeking demographic, it is just as important to understand each attraction and develop a touring plan. Attractions and shows vary between behind-the-scenes looks into movie making, thrilling rollercoasters, motion simulators, elaborate family-friendly dark rides, elaborately themed carnival flat rides, and definition-bending experiences. Even the slides at Volcano Bay vary in intensity and swimming ability. To save time, visit attractions your party is interested in and can handle.

Use TouringPlans and The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando to research the attractions at each park. Once one has determined which attractions to experience, build a customized touring plan or choose a preset plan. Make sure to use YouTube as a planning tool to gauge if an attraction would be too intense, scary, or inappropriate for your group; simply search for the attraction name and “Universal Orlando”.

Bumblebee and Optimus Prime meet and greet. Photo copyright Universal Orlando.

WING IT: Character Encounters

Remember the good ol’ days of randomly encountering a character in the parks? Those days are still alive at Universal Orlando, where characters roam parks and interactions are spontaneous. Doc Brown, Lucy, Marlyn Monroe, The Mystery Team, and more roam the Hollywood section of Universal Studios while Marvel characters can be found in Marvel Super Hero Island. Optimus Prime and Megatron are available for meet and greets outside of Transformers, The Simpsons are in Springfield, and the Knight Bus Driver posts up in London. So walk around the parks with your camera out–you will not know who might show up.

What do you plan and wing it during your Universal Orlando vacation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Joseph Matt

Avid amusement park and video game fan. Enjoys picking up rare beers at breweries, exploring cities, cooking, and sports.

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