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    How to Tour Universal Orlando

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This page tells how to the basics of planning a Universal Orlando vacation, and touring the resort 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.

How Much Time to Allocate

Prior to the debut of the Wizarding World, some visitors found they could see everything of note at both Universal parks within a single day. That's much more difficult now: touring Universal Studios Florida, including one meal and a visit to Diagon Alley, can easily eat up an entire day.

For that reason, we recommend devoting a minimum of a full day to each Universal Orlando theme park, especially if this is your first visit. Three days is ideal, particularly with a park-to-park pass, as it will allow you to fully explore each park and revisit your favorite attractions. A highlights tour of both parks can be done in one long day, but it would be tiring and you would miss many delightful smaller attractions.

Tip: Get to the park with your admission already purchased about 30-45 minutes before official opening time. Arrive 45-60 minutes before official opening time if you need to buy admission.

Which Park To Visit?

If you've never been to Universal Orlando, or at least not in this decade, the decision is down to what type of attractions you prefer. If you are a fan of simulators, screen-based experiences, and live shows, then Universal Studios Florida is right for you. If you prefer big outdoor roller-coasters and wild water rides, Islands of Adventure is your destination.

If you are a Harry Potter devotee you're going to have to visit both parks to get the full Wizarding World experience, and a park-to-park ticket is the only way to ride the Hogwarts Express. If you only have time for one, Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida is the more impressive of the two Potter-related lands.

If you are visiting during periods of prolonged inclement weather Universal Studios Florida is a much better park to visit, due to its larger percentage of indoor attractions.

To Volcano Bay or not to Volcano Bay

In 2017 Universal Orlando added their first water park, Volcano Bay. (Technically Universal marketing calls it their third theme park but we're not buying that one.) Volcano Bay is a spectacular water park with several excellent slides, but they are somewhat hampered by operational issues, mostly caused by their Tapu Tapu ride reservation system. If you like water parks and are staying at least 3 days at Universal Orlando then Volcano Bay is worth a trip. We highly recommend going during the Early Admission time if you are staying onsite, the park is much more manageable first thing in the morning or in the evening.

Integrating a Universal Orlando Visit with a WDW Vacation

While Universal Orlando has made strides recently in convincing visitors to make UOR their primary destination, for many travelers a stop at Universal is still a side-trip in their Walt Disney World-centric vacation. If you are devoting the bulk of your Orlando holiday to Disney, but still want to make a detour to Universal, you have three primary options:

  • The Day Trip: Most Disney guests who want to sample Universal take a single day out of their vacation to visit one park or another. This is the simplest solution for guests with their own cars, or shuttle transportation between the resorts can be arranged. The day trip has a couple drawbacks: the per-day cost can be high, especially if you want to visit both theme parks, and (depending on transportation arrangements) you may be unable to arrive before park opening (essential for optimal touring) or have to depart before closing time.
  • The WDW/UOR/WDW Sandwich: An increasing number of guests take a night or two out of the middle of their WDW trip and stay on property at Universal. Again, transportation can be handled through a private car or shuttle bus. This method allows you explore Universal over the course of two or three days, and enjoy the perks of staying on-site, like early park admission to the Wizarding World. You can also use Disney's Magical Express for free transfers from and to the airport at the beginning and end of your trip. The main drawback is that you must check in and out (and back in) to your Disney hotel, or pay for nights in a WDW bed you won't be using.
  • The Split Trip: The best option if you want to divide your vacation roughly equally between Disney and Universal is a split trip, where you stay at one resort for the first half of your visit, then transfer to the other for the remainder. You'll only be able to use Disney's Magical Express on one end of your vacation (arriving or departing), so look into the 3-way transportation offered by outfits like Quicksilver. To decide which resort to visit first, check Touring Plans' Crowd Calendars for both properties, and visit Disney on the days it will be less busy, since crowds can make a bigger difference there than at Universal.

Universal Orlando Operating Hours

The Universal Orlando website publishes preliminary park hours up to 6 months in advance, but schedule adjustments can happen at any time, including the day of your visit. Check our Universal Orlando Crowd Calendar for both crowd levels and park hours. During the off-season, parks may be open as few as 8 hours (9 a.m.–5 p.m.). At busy times (particularly holidays), they may operate 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Volcano Bay is open anywhere from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the off-season to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer.

Early Park Admission is a benefit for those staying in onsite hotels where they can enter one or multiple parks before official opening. Which of the two theme parks opens early for resort hotel guests can change often and is occasionally available at both parks. Volcano Bay almost always offers an Early Park Admission period.

Queues to rides and attractions usually close to new guests at exactly the park's official closing time; if you are already in line at closing, you will be permitted to stay as long as it takes for you to ride, barring technical malfunctions. (An exception to that rule is popular rides like Reign of Kong and Escape from Gringotts, which may close their entrances before the rest of the park if the queue length significantly exceeds the time remaining in the operating day.) The main gift shops near the front of each park remain open 30 minutes to an hour after the rest of the park has closed.

Quitting Time

Because the day parking for all Universal parks and the CityWalk shopping, dining, and entertainment complex is consolidated in the same parking structures, chaos can ensue on days when both parks close at the same time. Fortunately, Universal usually tries to stagger the parks' closings by at least an hour, but occasionally both theme parks empty at the same time, resulting in an epic flood of humanity heading to the parking garages.

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself in such a situation, we suggest taking a side-trip to CityWalk and sitting out the stampede with a snack or drink. If you haven't yet exited the park, you can try lingering inside the gates as long as possible, browsing the shops which remain open past closing time. Security guards will eventually gently shoo you out, but not until most of the parking mess has cleared.

Technical Rehearsals

“Technical rehearsals,” or “soft openings” as they are commonly called, are when Universal uses its paying guests as guinea pigs, and allows them to preview an attraction that isn't yet ready for prime-time. Technical rehearsals may be held anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before a new ride officially opens, but are never pre-announced or guaranteed; front-line employees may be instructed to deny that any opening is possible until the moment they open the queue. In exchange for bragging rights that they were the first inside a hot new attraction, technical rehearsal participants must accept the possibility of waiting a long time without ever getting to ride, as the soft opening may end at any moment.

Last updated by Brian McNichols on May 22, 2018

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