The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (2024)

In 1915, Universal Studios opened to the public in California. In 1964, the film studio introduced the now-iconic tram tours, which eventually inspired the creation of Universal Studios Hollywood, the movie-themed park. And in 1990, Universal Studios Florida opened in Orlando, mirroring Hollywood's attractions. Over the next 30 years, Universal Orlando has continued to expand and now includes two of the world’s most-visited theme parks (the original Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure), Volcano Bay water park, the CityWalk shopping and dining area, eight hotels, and the two groundbreaking Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, introduced in the 2010s. And the resort isn't done yet.

This summer, Universal Studios Florida will welcome guests to DreamWorks Land, a new family-focused section featuring a Trolls-themed coaster, a Kung Fu Panda play area, and a Shrek meet-and-greet. And in 2025, the highly anticipated Universal Epic Universe will debut with five immersive lands like Super Nintendo World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Ministry of Magic. It's bound to be the decade's most significant theme park development.

Ready to start planning your trip to Universal Orlando Resort? Here’s everything you need to know — from can’t-miss rides to the best places to stay — according to me, Travel + Leisure's theme park expert and frequent Universal Orlando visitor.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (1)

Best Time to Visit

The best times to visit Florida and its resorts depend on what you want from your vacation. Predictably great weather? Fewer crowds? You can expect the best weather in winter and spring (January to May) before summer's intense heat and humidity (June to September) and the Atlantic hurricane season (June to November). If you want to avoid hordes of tourists, time your trip outside school holidays like spring and winter breaks and summer vacation. Be aware that popular Universal events, like Halloween Horror Nights, can draw crowds of out-of-towners and local annual pass holders alike.

In the past, off-peak months offered a reprieve from the rest of the year’s long lines, but I’ve found that those truly low seasons don’t exist anymore. I've traveled to Florida’s theme parks every month of the year; my favorite times to visit for fewer crowds and pleasant weather are late January through February, early May, and late September to early October.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (2)

Tickets and Annual Passes

Tickets

  • One-day, one-park tickets to Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure start at $119 for adults.
  • One-day, two-park tickets, which allow you to hop between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure throughout the day, start at $174 per day (you’ll need park-to-park tickets to ride the Hogwarts Express).
  • One-day Volcano Bay tickets begin at $80.
  • Universal Orlando uses a dynamic pricing calendar, so tickets are more expensive on busy days.

Remember, the longer you stay, the more you can save on the average daily ticket price, and Universal Orlando often offers special deals with discounts on multiday vacation packages.

Express Pass

Universal offers skip-the-line passes for an additional fee (you can get these for free when you stay at select hotels — more on that later). You can purchase these passes in advance when booking your tickets or at the park (if they're still available when you visit).

  • The basic Universal Express Pass ranges from $79.99 to $289.99 per person. It allows you to skip the regular lines once per participating attraction at Universal Studios Florida or Universal Islands of Adventure.
  • Universal Express Unlimited — $109.99 to $319.99 per person — allows you to skip the lines for participating rides as often as you'd like.
  • A Volcano Bay Express Pass allows you to skip the virtual line once for every participating attraction.

Annual Passes

Universal Orlando offers two- and three-park annual and seasonal passes, such as the UOAP Seasonal Pass, which provides the most limited access and fewest perks, and the UOAP Premier Pass, which offers no blackout dates, early park admission, discounts, and more. Annual pass holders can also score deals on Universal Orlando vacation packages.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (3)

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida is a movie-, television-, and entertainment industry-themed park inspired by the original park in Hollywood, and it has several lands influenced by backlot sets (including New York, Hollywood, and San Francisco), plus Minion Land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield U.S.A.: Home of the Simpsons, and the upcoming DreamWorks Land. T+L has previously ranked all the Universal Orlando rides and attractions, so here are the highlights.

Can’t-miss Rides and Attractions

Most guests head straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. With the thrilling Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts ride, Hogwarts Express at King's Cross replica, and Ollivander's wand selection ceremonies, it doesn’t take a spell book to understand why. The Revenge of the Mummy indoor coaster is another highlight, along with the classic, family-friendly E.T. Adventure dark ride.

Right at the entrance, Minion Land is a colorful kids land with a silly motion simulator ride — Despicable Me Minion Mayhem — and a new interactive shooting attraction, Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast. The Simpsons Ride is fun if you're a fan, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is a wild coaster where you choose the soundtrack, and the Men in Black Alien Attack lets you hunt for aliens.

During a recent trip, I stopped to watch Animal Actors on Location, a family-friendly animal show. It was downright delightful to watch adorable dogs, cats, birds, and more follow their “acting” commands.

Where to Eat

Butterbeer and other British eats make the Leaky Cauldron a must-try in the Wizarding World; Finnegan’s Bar & Grill is a popular drink spot; Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour's butterbeer ice cream is a favorite; and Moe’s Tavern is a fun place for a photo op, with a Duff Beer in hand, of course.And bright and cheery Illumination’s Minion Cafe, a recent addition to Universal Studios Florida, pleasantly surprised me during a recent trip with its tasty salmon and cauliflower bowls, fresh salads, and sandwiches.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (4)

Universal Islands of Adventure

Universal Islands of Adventure opened in 1999 as Universal Orlando’s second theme park; today, it has eight themed lands, including the Marvel Super Hero Island, Jurassic Park, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade. While Universal Studios Florida captures the movie magic feel that started it all, Islands of Adventure is more action-packed. If you only have time for one, I recommend visiting this one (but ideally, you’ll get a park-to-park pass, so you don’t have to choose).

Can’t-miss Rides and Attractions

Islands of Adventure is home to the resort’s two best roller coasters: the brilliantly themed Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and the scream-worthy Jurassic World VelociCoaster. Try to rope drop these fantastic rides when the park opens before lines get too long, but if you can't, they're worth the (often lengthy) wait.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey takes you inside Hogwarts and through iconic settings from the films. The Incredible Hulk Coaster is a twisting, turning thrill, and Seuss Landing’s charming Dr. Seuss-themed attractions are ideal for little ones.

Word to the wise: Don’t get on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, or Jurassic Park River Adventure unless you're prepared to get drenched (speaking from soggy experience).

Where to Eat

My top Islands of Adventure restaurant, and one of the very best dining establishments at Universal Orlando, is Mythos Restaurant, found in the lesser-visited Lost Continent land. Its fresh, Mediterranean-influenced dishes are a great break from theme park pizza and chicken fingers. I also like to grab a drink at The Backwater Bar (I had a delightful spicy margarita last time I was there), and Three Broomsticks is a classic spot for Harry Potter-inspired eats. Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous recently debuted a new menu in Seuss Landing.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (5)

Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay, Universal Orlando’s tropical-themed water park, opened in 2017 and was the first of its kind built by Universal Creative. I’m not a huge water park person, but that changed once I visited Volcano Bay last year. It’s beautiful, with lots of space to splash and rip-roaring slides. To enhance your day, rent a cabana or premium seats.

Can’t-miss Rides and Attractions

Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a fast-paced water ride, plunges your raft up and down a thrilling course, culminating in a final splash. The Honu Ika Moana multi-person raft slides are fun, too, as is the whitewater TeAwa The Fearless River (don’t worry, there’s also a lazy river if you want to relax). More body and tube slides, a wave pool, and kids play areas offer an entire day’s worth of fun in the sun.

Where to Eat

Grab a bite between catching waves and zipping down waterslides at Bambu, The Feasting Frog, and Whakawaiwai Eats. Don’t miss the rainbow soft serve from Koka Poroka Ice Cream Kona. Several bars around the park serve up tropical, fruity co*cktails.

Universal CityWalk

Located just outside Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, Universal CityWalk, also known as the “Epicenter of Awesome,” offers shopping and dining, plus the new Universal’s Great Movie Escape experience. My favorite CityWalk restaurants are Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food and Cowfish for burgers and sushi, respectively. There’s also a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, a Hard Rock Cafe, and a Universal Studios Store selling souvenirs. Voodoo Doughnut is a popular stop for a sweet treat either before you hit the parks or on your way out; you’ll notice tons of visitors carrying the iconic light pink boxes.

Hotels

Universal Orlando currently has eight resorts operated by Loews Hotels (more to come with the Epic Universe expansion) that fall into four categories based on amenities and perks: Premier, Preferred, Prime Value, and Value. Value hotels cost as low as $99.20 per night, while Premier properties typically start around $350, so there are options within a wide range of budgets.

I’ve stayed at four of the eight resorts, and they all offer outsized perks for their price points. A free Express Pass and easy access to the theme parks make Premier-level hotels worth it, while Prime Value properties offer comfortable, clean rooms and fun themes.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (6)

PremierHotels

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort fall into Universal Orlando’s top-tier resort category, which includes perks like free Universal Express Unlimited passes (so you can skip the lines for participating attractions as much as you want), early park admission, priority seating at select restaurants, and complimentary transportation. I’ve stayed at all three.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is typically the most expensive on-property hotel. It's also the best-themed of the bunch, with architecture and decor inspired by Portofino, Italy, like a charming bay filled with little boats. The hotel has three themed pools, a spa, eight restaurants and lounges, and 750 guest rooms. Plus, you can get to the parks via complimentary water taxis, shuttles, and a walking path.

California mission-style Hard Rock Hotel is lively, music-focused, and great for families with teens. It has 650 guest rooms, a 12,000-square-foot pool with underwater speakers, four dining outlets, complimentary water taxis and shuttles, and a short walking path to the theme parks.

Tropically themed Loews Royal Pacific Resort has lush landscaping, several restaurants and lounges, and a lagoon-style pool. This is one of my favorite on-property hotels because it’s typically the least expensive Premier resort, yet it's a fantastic value thanks to the included Express Pass. During a recent stay, I loved that the park was a short walk away (so you don’t have to wait for the bus or water taxi), and I was impressed with the friendly, helpful staff and the beautiful, clean grounds.

Preferred Hotels

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is in a category of its own as the sole Preferred-level hotel at Universal Orlando. This 1,000-room resort (also tropically themed) comes with perks like early park entry, complimentary water taxis, shuttle buses, and walking paths to the parks. It also has several on-site dining options and a pool with a beach.

Prime ValueHotels

Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Aventura Hotel are in Universal Orlando’s Prime Value resort category. Both come with early park entry, shuttle buses, and a walking path to the park entrance (though the walks are longer than others). I stayed at Cabana Bay Beach Resort in September 2023 and was impressed with the clean rooms and spaces (there are more than 2,000 guest rooms and suites), charming mid-century motifs, on-site bowling alley, and large pools. It’s a fantastic choice for families, thanks to plenty of on-property activities, the short walking path to Volcano Bay, and suites that sleep up to six.

Universal’s Aventura Hotel is a 600-key resort with a pool, modern rooms, and several restaurants and lounges, including a 17th-floor rooftop bar.

Value Hotels

Universal’s Endless Summer Resort - Surfside Inn and Suites and Universal’s Endless Summer - Dockside Inn and Suites are Universal Orlando’s least expensive accommodation options. The sibling properties still offer early park admission and complimentary transportation to the parks, plus pools, on-site dining, and family suites. Surfside Inn and Suites is a bit smaller, with 750 guest rooms, compared to Dockside’s 2,050 guest rooms.

Major Events

Universal Orlando puts on three major annual events each year: Universal Mardi Gras, Halloween Horror Nights, and Holidays at Universal Orlando.

Universal Mardi Gras

Universal Mardi Gras typically occurs in winter through early spring, and the over-the-top festival includes New Orleans-inspired parade floats (and yes, they throw beads), live entertainment, and Carnival-influenced eats. The event — which happens across Universal Studios Florida — is included with your theme park admission.

Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights brings droves of scare-seekers to Universal Studios Florida during select nights throughout the fall. I had the chance to experience the cult-favorite, separately ticketed event for the first time this fall, and despite being a total scaredy-cat, I braved almost all of the 10 immersive haunted houses and scare zones and snacked on some of the themed eats available throughout the park. I would highly recommend the event to anyone who loves a scary movie or even just an immersive attraction (though it’s not recommended for kids under 13 due to depictions of violence, gore, and other frightening images).

Holidays at Universal Orlando

Holidays at Universal Orlando is a fantastic way to celebrate the holidays. Think Dr. Seuss-themed Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure and Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s at Universal Studios Florida, which is included with your park ticket. The halls are decked across the theme parks and hotels, and seasonal food and drinks are readily available.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (7)

Itinerary and Budget Tips

Itinerary Ideas

If you plan to visit the two theme parks and the water park, I recommend spending at least three full days at Universal Orlando (with one day per park). If it fits your budget, book a Premier hotel to take advantage of free Universal Express Unlimited passes so you can skip lines and maximize your time. With an Express Pass, I've been able to ride almost every attraction I've wanted to within two days. However, you may still be able to check most rides off your list if you visit for a few days during a slower time of year.

If you want to squeeze in both parks in one day, I recommend getting a two-park ticket with Express Pass so you can breeze through the attractions that matter most to you. Also, be sure to download the Universal Orlando phone app to easily check ride wait times, entertainment schedules, and restaurant information.

One Day at Universal Orlando

For many thrill-loving parkgoers, one perfect day at Universal Orlando might start at Islands of Adventure with Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Ideally, you're staying on the property and can take advantage of the early access hour, as Express Pass won’t work for this attraction.

Next, head to VelociCoaster. From there, bop back over to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and check out the rest of Hogsmeade before circling back around the park and hitting any other attractions on your list. Then, take the Hogwarts Express over to Universal Studios and use your Express Pass to bypass the lines for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy, and anything else that appeals to you.

Families with small kids might want to rope drop Islands of Adventure's Pteranodon Flyers, a slow-loading kids ride that almost always has a long line. Universal Orlando’s theme parks sometimes close in the afternoon, so once you've seen everything you want to, you might want to head to an early dinner at a CityWalk restaurant.

Budgeting Tips

Theme park ticket prices keep increasing, but Universal Orlando offers great deals for travelers hoping to save a few bucks on their Florida vacation. Most special offers come in the form of free tickets and discounts on longer-stay packages; at the time of writing, they currently offer 25 percent off a three-park, five-night vacation package or two days free with a two-day, two-park ticket. Be sure to check the Ticket Deals and Special Offers section of the Universal Orlando website for up-to-date information and special offers for Florida residents.

The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort — Including Everything to Know About the Theme Parks, Hotels, and More (2024)

FAQs

How many theme parks are at Universal Orlando Resort? ›

Take your vacation to the next level at Universal Orlando Resort. With three amazing theme parks – Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure, and Universal's Volcano Bay water theme park – spectacular on-site hotels and more, it's days and nights of endless fun for every member of the family.

How many hotels does Universal have? ›

Universal has eight resort hotels. The 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel is a gorgeous property set on an artificial bay and themed like an Italian coastal town.

What is the description of Universal Studios Orlando? ›

Universal Studios Florida is a theme park located in Orlando, Florida, that opened on June 7, 1990. Owned and operated by NBCUniversal, it features numerous rides, attractions, and live shows that are primarily themed to movies, television, and other aspects of the entertainment industry.

Which park is better at Universal Orlando? ›

Universal Studios may be for you if you prefer a park centered around movies and TV with a more laid-back atmosphere. If you like superheroes and thrill rides, you'll want to travel to Islands of Adventure. No matter what you decide, it'll be a fun experience.

Why is Universal Orlando Resort famous? ›

Home to some of the world's most advanced and amazing attractions and rides, Universal Orlando Resort allows guests to experience favorite films and television shows like never before.

How many rides does Universal Orlando Resort have? ›

How many rides are at Universal Studios Orlando? There are 48 rides currently at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

Which Universal hotels give fast passes? ›

Three Universal Orlando hotels come with free passes for each guest listed on the room:
  • Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando.
  • Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
  • Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
Mar 18, 2024

Which Universal hotel has the biggest rooms? ›

For those who have never stayed at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, their standard hotel rooms are the largest of any hotel at Universal or Disney.

Do universal hotels include park tickets? ›

When you stay at the Hard Rock Hotel®, Loews Royal Pacific Resort or Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, you'll benefit from FREE Universal Express Unlimited Passes* for every day of your stay, including the days you check in and check out. That means you can get 2 days' worth of Express Passes with just a one-night stay!

Is Universal as fun as Disney? ›

If you're more interested in large rides like roller coasters, Universal is going to be your best bet. The same is true if you're a big fan of Harry Potter. If you don't mind some of the more family-friendly rides or you have little ones to bring along, Disney may be a better option.

Who does Universal own? ›

Is Universal Studios owned by Disney? ›

Universal City Studios LLC, doing business as Universal Pictures (informally as Universal Studios or also known simply as Universal) is an American film production and distribution company, a division of Universal Studios, which is owned by NBCUniversal, a division of Comcast. U.S.

Which Universal park should I do first? ›

However you choose to tackle the parks, an Express Pass will be your best friend when it comes to navigating the lines. Now, the big question… which park to visit first? Most people will tell you to head straight to Islands of Adventure, and if you are staying at a Universal resort on site with early admission – DO IT!

Is Universal cheaper than Disney? ›

And as a general rule of thumb, Universal is cheaper than Disney in almost every category, from tickets to theme park food, and the most noticeable being hotel rooms. And not only are the Universal hotels cheaper, but we feel like guests receive more amenities for free at Universal vs Disney World.

Is Epcot or Universal better? ›

It truly depends on your goal of the trip! If you want to ride bigger rides, drink a bit, walk onto rides, Universal Studios is your park. Disney is better suited for people who appreciate the details, don't mind more kids, want to try different foods, and have more park options.

What is the difference between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure? ›

The choice between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure should be based on the types of experiences you prefer: Choose Islands of Adventure for thrill rides and adventure. Better for adults and those adrenaline fans. Opt for Universal Studios for shows, entertainment, and a cinematic experience.

How big is Universal Orlando Resort? ›

Universal Orlando Resort is an entertainment resort complex covering 541 acres, and is the second largest resort in Orlando, Florida, after the Walt Disney World Resort.

Can you do both Universal parks in one day? ›

If you're not looking to spend a lot of money and you're wondering if you can still do Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in one day, the answer is: Yes, you can. You don't need a Universal Express pass or a stay in one of its branded hotels.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Greg O'Connell

Last Updated:

Views: 5229

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (42 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Greg O'Connell

Birthday: 1992-01-10

Address: Suite 517 2436 Jefferey Pass, Shanitaside, UT 27519

Phone: +2614651609714

Job: Education Developer

Hobby: Cooking, Gambling, Pottery, Shooting, Baseball, Singing, Snowboarding

Introduction: My name is Greg O'Connell, I am a delightful, colorful, talented, kind, lively, modern, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.