Harry PotterUniversal Orlando Resort

Common Universal Orlando Vacation Questions & Misconceptions

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Booking your first Universal Orlando vacation and wondering about that Harry Potter theme park? Do I have to book dining months in advance? Wait, does Universal just have thrill rides? Be careful, misconceptions about the resort trip up guests when booking and visiting. In this article, we will debunk six common myths and provide solutions to your questions.

Sunset glow in approaching rain, behind the Universal globe tonight. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Is Universal Orlando Confusing To Navigate?

The Universal Orlando Resort is a compact 750-acres with two theme parks within walking distance of each other, an entertainment and dining district located between them, and hotels located around the entertainment core. The layout is very similar to the Disneyland Resort than Walt Disney World. If you only know Walt Disney World, then Universal is similar to the Cresent Lake area between Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios with pedestrian walkways and boats connecting resorts and two theme parks.

Can I Use My Walt Disney World Tickets, Gift Cards, Dining Plan, or MagicBands at Universal Orlando?

This might be simple, but believe it or not a lot of people think both resorts share admission. No, you cannot use Walt Disney World tickets, gift cards, or payment methods at Universal Orlando.

Walt Disney World is owned and operated by The Walt Disney Company, Univeral Orlando Resort is run and operated by NBC/Universal, a division of Comcast. If you want a one gift card solution to your Orlando vacation we recommend purchasing a prepaid debit gift card such as the Visa Gift Card. Not only are these debit gift cards accepted at all theme parks, but they also can be used outside the parks for everyday purchases.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort.

Is There a One-Day Ticket to the Harry Potter Theme Park?

Universal advertises the Harry Potter lands as a “theme park within a theme park”, which is confusing to guests wanting to see Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. Despite confusing advertising, there is no single Harry Potter Theme Park.

Instead, the Harry Potter attractions, restaurants, and shops are spread across two separate theme parks under “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” name. Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure and features Hogwarts Castle and the new Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure. Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios Florida and features Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

Purchasing a 1-day ticket to either park will grant access to that park’s land, while purchasing a 2-park ticket will let guests see both lands plus ride the Hogwarts Express attraction between both parks.

Do I Have to Book My Universal Orlando Hotel and Tickets Together?

Thankfully, no! Tickets and hotels can be booked at separate times. We suggest booking hotels as soon as possible to lock in a rate, then using the cancelation policy (free cancelations up to 7 days before your stay) to rebook if the price drops.

Ticket deals, such as “buy three-day tickets, get the fourth day free”, routinely appear in the late winter and late summer months. We suggest waiting to purchase tickets until these deals appear. Fair warning, ticket price increases usually occur once the ticket deal sales end.

The Cowfish at Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk.

Do I Have to Book My Universal Orlando Dining Reservations Months in Advance?

Walt Disney World veterans know the drill: wake up months ahead of time at 7:00 a.m. to book your favorite dining options or risk being shut out. Universal Orlando thankfully has more leniency in its booking strategies. Lunchtime reservations are available the day of while dinner reservations start filling 24-48 hours prior. We suggest reviewing the dining options on TouringPlans and booking your must-dine restaurants a week before your trip.

Dining reservations can be made online or by calling the restaurant.

Does Univeral Orlando Just Have Thrill Rides?

A common misconception dating back to the opening of Islands of Adventure is Universal “just builds coasters”. While this discussion point has morphed over the years, the fact is Universal has a wide variety of attractions with various levels of intensity and thrill.

Universal roller coasters are more thrilling than Disney’s but Universal also features some of the best-themed playgrounds in Orlando. Seuss Landing features several family attractions, meet and greets, and play areas. Even The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has dozens of spots for witches and wizards to test their spellcasting abilities. Looking for even more enjoyable ways to have fun at Universal Orlando without doing thrill rides? We’ve got you covered here.

Is There a Free Line Skipping Option?

No, the Universal Express Pass is the only line skipping option at Universal Orlando. One day of Express Pass at Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure starts at $80 per person per day and allows guests to skip the line at select attractions once per day. An Unlimited Express Pass is also sold starting at $110 per person per day which removes the line skipping limit – go wild with rides on VelociCoaster. It is usually cheaper for parties of two or more to stay at an onsite Universal Premier Resort which comes with complimentary Unlimited Express Pass than it is to stay at another hotel and buy Express.

 First published June 5, 2021. Updated January 27, 2024.

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Joseph Matt

Joe covers theme parks through the lens of his quality engineering day job. He has over five years of writing experience at Touring Plans and has gone on dozens of trips to Orlando over his life. When not at amusement parks you can find Joe at breweries, enjoying live theater, playing video games, and cooking.

9 thoughts on “Common Universal Orlando Vacation Questions & Misconceptions

  • Universal Orlando thankfully has more leniency in its booking strategies. Lunchtime reservations are available the day of while dinner reservations start filling 24-48 hours prior. Great post thank you!

  • My family will be visiting Universal around the holidays. We only have one day allotted and I am curious if you have a one day, two park guide. As I look at the site I see guides for each park but no combined plans.
    Thank you for your great products. They are amazing!

  • I don’t think Universal is as handicap friendly as WDW, not as easy to get around.

  • Universal may have a variety of other attractions besides roller coasters, but many of them can still induce motion sickness. If you have someone prone to motion sickness, this can leave them with little to ride.

    We went to both Universal and Disney last December. My wife is very prone to motion sickness. At Disney, she was able to find rides that she could ride and have a full day, while this was difficult at Universal.

  • I’d love to see something similar for LegoLand.

  • Second paragraph should include a warning about 20% Tip Tolerance on prepaid debit gift card such as the Visa Gift Card. This includes paying for Room Only reservations at the resort front desk, all restaurants and anywhere tips can be added to your bill.

  • While it’s true that Universal “has a wide variety of attractions with various levels of intensity and thrill,” there’s a key difference in their approach to attraction storytelling.

    For lack of a better term, Disney has very few attractions that rely on a storyline of “menacing” riders. Many rides appear to put you in peril momentarily (close call with yeti, moments in Star Tours, etc), but I think Rise of the Resistance and AK’s Dinosaur are the only two WDW attractions where the actual storyline of the ride is “he’s trying to get us, can we escape before we get (lightsabered/eaten)?”

    At Universal, however, “will we get out of this alive?” is the basic storyline of MANY of the attractions, and it’s all pretty in-your-face. In a day on Universal rides, you can have: Marvel villains try to kill you, Decepticons try to kill you, animatronic dinosaurs try to eat you, 3D dinosaurs try to eat you, an ancient mummy curse your soul, Sideshow Bob try to kill you, aliens try to kill you, and Owen Shaw’s thugs chase and shoot at you. And that’s not even mentioning the WWoHP attractions, which are basically all about escaping death by Voldemort & co, dementors, spiders, a giant tree, a dragon, and lots more. Lots of “nightmare fuel,” as the kids call it.

    This is not really a *criticism* of Universal (I enjoy most of the rides alluded to above), but it’s important for parents to understand. Just because your kid likes Harry Potter/Spider-Man/Transformers/etc and is tall enough to ride, doesn’t always mean they’re READY for the rides.

    • Great point Andy, way less rides at Disney try to actively try to remove you from this mortal coil.

    • I just wanted to say, Andy, that you’re reply made me even more excited about our upcoming trip. I read it to my kid and they laughed at all the stuff trying to kill you there. Love it!


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