We recently went to Universal Studios Orlando for the first time in nearly 20 years! And this time we brought along our 6-year-old for a fun filled couple days of rides, superheroes and magic. I didn’t do a lot of research before we went beyond a short Facebook post asking if we could do everything in one day. (the answer is no) So I wanted to share what I learned from my trip in case someone else is planning to go soon.
10 Tips for a Trip to Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure
1 – Do at Least Two Days
If you have kids with you, it makes everything take longer. They are also going to get tired and cranky. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to cram two parks into one day. We did both parks, both days, and still didn’t see and do everything! They currently have a Florida resident deal where you get a second day free. If it says you need a coupon code from a specially marked cup at Wendy’s, just put “WENDYS” in the code spot and it will give you the deal. I was stressing about going to get a drink at Wendy’s before stumbling across that tip on Reddit.
2 – Get the Express Pass
The lines at Universal were not as bad as the lines at Disney, but with the Express Pass, they were phenomenally short! We breezed right through most lines in 10 minutes or less. The passes range from $80 – $110 if added on to a ticket, but you can save $$ by following the next tip! Also, you can use the Express Pass on most rides. One ride it doesn’t work on is Hagrid’s Motorbike ride. The wait for that one is LONG! The average wait when we were there was 2.5 – 3 hours.
3 – Stay in One of the Main Hotels
Besides the convenience of staying on site and being able to easily get to the park, staying in one of the premium hotels gives you the huge bonus of a free Unlimited Express Pass included for each day you are at the park, for each person staying with you. You can easily make up the extra cost of the premium hotel room when adding up the free passes! The hotels to stay at are the Portofino, Hard Rock or Royal Pacific Resort. If you are going the day you arrive, but before your hotel room is ready, just check in at the front desk and they will give you temporary hotel cards. These are your Express Passes and parking garage passes. You also get early admission into one of the parks each day so you can beat the crowds.
4 – Stay Until Dark
Make sure you make it until dark at least one evening so you can see the Macy’s parade and the light show. We actually missed the light show because we were too tired to stick around, but I’ve heard it’s really cool. And Diagon Alley is all lit up at night and even more magical. If you stay onsite, your best bet is to go really early, then go back to the hotel room and rest, and then do a second round at night.
5 – Get a Magic Wand
I was super excited to go to Harry Potter world and planned on getting myself a wand, even though I had no idea they actually did anything! My son wasn’t interested at first, but then when he decided he wanted one, and I saw they were $60, I told him to pick us out one to share. Now that we’re home, I’ve already stolen it and put it safely away until our next trip. (OK, I’ll be honest- I stole it to use with my costumes, lol)
So what do they do? MAGIC of course! In both Harry Potter lands, there are places where you use the magic wand to do things like make a fountain squirt water, make things sing or dance, or make things move. There’s a little sensor on the end of the wand that connects with the display. Sometimes you can see the little red lights and know where to aim, and sometimes you just wave the wand around trying to get the right magic movement and hope something happens. My son was so into it that we spent half the day running around looking for magic spots.
There’s also one more spot to use the wand besides Harry Potter land- right outside it in the Lost World is the talking fountain. When kids with wands get near, she talks to them and has them do magic tricks like turn the fountain into a bubbling jacuzzi or make it shoot water and play music. It took my son about 20 minutes just to work up the courage to go talk to the fountain, but it was the highlight of his day.
6 – Know the Height Requirements
My son is just shy of 48″ and several of the rollercoaster rides require 48″ or taller. For most of them, as long as he stood up straight and just barely brushed the bottom of the height ruler, they’d let him though. But they were very strict for Hagrid’s Motorbike! Kids were being turned away if they weren’t exactly 48″ or taller. So be ready for that possibility. If that happens, they do have a kid swap area on most of the rides, where one parent can go while the other waits, and then the other can ride without waiting in line again.
7 – Masks are Optional
Everywhere you go, you’ll see signs saying masks are required indoors, but it is not enforced at all. Even if you don’t opt to wear one, it’s good to have it on you just in case, but there was not one ride where anyone said anything about masks. Also, there are signs encouraging social distancing, but on every ride you’ll hear the workers shout “Everyone move up and use up all the space!” So we are getting back to being squashed in places like cattle. If you are concerned about mask wearing and social distancing at all, Universal Studios is not the place to go.
8 – Longest Waits Were for Food
While we breezed right on to most rides, the food took around 30 minutes each time. I recommend taking advantage of the advance ordering option in the Universal app.
9 – Ride the Hogwarts Express Both Ways
You’ll need a 2-Park Pass to ride the Hogwarts Express, and each way you go is a different experience. The area you sit in is the same, but the action outside and scenery will be different. It’s the best way to get from one park to the other- no rushing at brick walls required.
10 – Diagon Alley Isn’t on the Map
Since I didn’t do any research before we went, I had no idea Daigon Alley was hidden behind a wall! We kept seeing a lot of people going in and out of this one area, but it didn’t look like it was anything. And we kept trying to find out what it was on the map, but it didn’t say anything. So finally we walked behind a wall and were greeted with the magical site of Diagon Alley, where you’ll find everything like it is in the movies! Gringots, The Leaky Cauldron, all the neat shops- they’re all there. And make sure you don’t miss Knockturn Alley, where you’ll find the purveyors of the dark arts. It’s a neat dark area with cool shops and lots of places where the kids can use their wands.
That’s all I can think of for now! Overall, we really loved both parks and are looking forward to going again. We plan to wait until our son grows a good solid inch though, so he can clear that magical 48″ mark!
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About the Author
Candy Keane is a digital content creator and long-time cosplayer, most well-known for being on the cover of the Star Wars documentary Jedi Junkies. After making costumes professionally for over a decade, she now writes about about geek culture and mom life, and continues to cosplay for fun, while sharing her love of costumes on Instagram @SewGeekMama. Her first children’s book, I’m Going to My First Comic Convention, was published in 2020 and won a Story Monsters Approved award for Excellence in Literature.