What to do at the Weekend:
Visit Universal Orlando Resort
When visiting Florida, a day out at Universal Orlando Resort is unquestionably one of the best things to do.Known for its film inspired rides that delight thrill seekers of all ages, Universal Orlando Resort is a fun-filled adventure that will keep you coming back for more.
Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure
The Universal Orlando Resort is split into two theme parks and a water park:
- Universal Studios Florida
- Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Volcano Bay
Universal Studios Florida is the site’s original theme park, which opened back in 1990.
Here, you’ll be immersed in the wonders of Hollywood, feeling like you’ve literally stepped foot onto a film set.
The park is zoned into differently themed areas:
Hollywood, Production Central, New York, San Francisco, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley, World Expo and Springfield.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened in 1999 and is home to some of the resorts’ most iconic spots.
These include Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogwarts and Hogsmead, and Marvel Superhero Island.
Something for Everyone
One of the great things about both parks is that they are accessible to every age.
Both parks have a selection of attractions, from rollercoasters and 4D rides, to log flumes and child-friendly zones.
If like Ben you LOVE every rollercoaster in existence then they’ve got you covered.
Alternatively, if like Tanith big rides aren’t your thing, then there’s still plenty you can enjoy.
There really is something for everyone.
It is worth bearing in mind however, that the 3D/4D simulation rides won’t be a good fit for you, if you suffer from bad motion sickness!
Despite all that, the atmosphere in both parks is fantastic…so even just wandering around and taking in the sights is a great experience.
What Rides are at Universal Studios Florida?
There is so much to enjoy at the Universal Studios Florida park.
If a rollercoaster is what you’re after, then Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is for you.
Once seated you get to select a song of choice to be the soundtrack of your ride (Ben always picks Rollin’ by Limp Bizkit) before climbing at a 90-degree angle for the first big drop!
The ride actually reaches 17 stories high, giving you a great view over Universal Studios, and travels at a speeds of 65 miles an hour.
If you’re feeling competitive, you’ll want to give Men in Black Alien Attack a go.
As you wind your way around New York, you’ll need to use your laser gun to blast aliens back to their world.
Everyone in your car has their own gun, with scores tallying up as you ride.
Who will have the best aim?
Not Tanith, that’s for sure!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
If you’re a Harry Potter nerd – like us – then you’re definitely going to want to check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.
First, enter Diagon Alley through the vanishing brick wall like in the books and movies.
Then, explore the shops, landmarks, and atmosphere of one of the film’s most well-known locations.
Here you’ll find the likes of the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and Sugarplum’s Sweetshop.
You can even have food and drink inside the Leaky Cauldron or explore the darker side of Knockturn Alley.
Pro-tip: Knockturn Alley is actually a great place to escape the afternoon sun because it’s always shady and cold.
At the centre of all this you’ll find Gringotts Bank, which is home to the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Ride
The ride’s queue weaves its way through Gringotts bank, which is spectacularly designed with prestigious marble columns and glass chandeliers.
Eventually make it to the carts that transport you around the vaults and the ride begins.
We’re not going to say any more than that (we wouldn’t want to spoil the ride for you)…but it was definitely one of Tanith’s favourites!
Before – or after – you head into the bank, you’re going to want to see the moment the Dragon perched on the roof of Gringotts breathes fire (it happens every 10-15 minutes).
It’s pretty epic to see, and you can feel the strength of the 3560 degree Fahrenheit heat even from the ground below.
A telltale sign it’s about to happen is the growling and rumbling you’ll hear from the dragon, building in the moments before it breathes fire.
Riding the Hogwarts Express
If you’ve purchased ticket access to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, then why not catch the Hogwarts Express between the two parks?
Although the parks are only a short walk apart, we’d definitely recommend giving the Hogwarts Express a ride if you can time the queue right!
The station at Universal Studios is themed as London’s King Cross.
As you make your way through the queue, you’ll really feel like you’re at a proper British train station (and not in the middle of a Florida theme park).
There’s even a clever little trick that makes it look like the other passengers are passing through a solid brick wall onto platform 9¾ – it’s cool to see!
From Kings Cross, you’ll travel over to Hogsmeade station in Islands of adventure.
The journey is different both ways, so it’s worth traveling in each direction if you get the chance.
What Rides are at Universal’s Islands of Adventure?
All in all, we’d say Islands of Adventure has more of our favourite spots than Universal Studios.
Although they are both great!
Water Rides and Log Flumes
Despite not liking roller coasters, Tanith is a big log flume fan.
There are two log flume rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
So, the Jurassic Park River Adventure and Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls were always going to be on our list.
If you ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, prepare to get wet!
The ride takes you past classic cartoon characters and through twists and turns, before the final 75-foot drop.
Safe to safe we were both soaked from head to toe.
As avid fans of the original Jurassic Park movies, we loved the Jurassic Park River Adventure.
We’re not going to give too much away on this one…but definitely give it a ride.
Depending on where you sit, you may get pretty damp.
Of course, we managed to sit in prime soaking spots!
Luckily, the Florida sun soon dried us off.
While you’re by the River Adventure, you’re definitely going to want to get a shot of the iconic Jurassic Park gates which lead you into that zone of the park.
Islands of Adventure is home to a river rapid ride in Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.
It was sadly closed for refurbishment when we visited, but it is back open now (updated in the summer).
Ben’s been on before and said it’s really good and will definitely get you wet!
The Newest Rides
Two newer rides to Islands of Adventure are Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and the Jurassic Park VelociCoaster.
We didn’t get the chance to ride either of these unfortunately, as having recently opened they both had pretty big queues all day long.
They’re high on our list for next time though!
Hogwarts and Hogsmead
Probably the most iconic of all the Universal Orlando Resort rides, is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Situated inside Hogwarts Castle, this one takes you on a broomstick flight around the Hogwarts grounds as you join Harry on an exciting adventure.
As with most of the rides at the Universal Resort, the queue for this one is epic.
So you might not actually mind too much if there is a bit of a wait.
The line weaves you through the castle halls.
Past the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, through the corridors of moving photographs and even through a defence against the dark arts class.
After the ride, you can make your way through Hogsmeade and on to Hogsmeade station if you want to catch the Hogwarts Express across to Universal Studios.
In Hogsmeade you can treat yourself to a butterbeer (although there is ALWAYS a massive queue for this) and even step inside Honeydukes or Ollivander’s Wand Shop.
If you want to read about more Harry Potter related weekend ideas, be sure to check out our Harry Potter Studio Tour post.
After reading this one of course!
Our Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando Resort
Get there early!
We’d definitely recommend getting to both of the Universal Resort parks for opening time.
Although it may feel like there is an initial crowd of people waiting for the rides to open, everyone soon disperses and you can easily get on a few rides before the parks begin to get busy.
Give yourself 15 – 20 minutes leeway when you arrive before the parks actually open.
Whether you drive in or get a cab, you’ll need to pass through security first.
The security plaza is located just after the car park and resembles airport security with metal detectors and bag scanners.
After that, you walk through CityWalk to the entrance of your chosen park.
What is the best way to get to the Universal Orlando Resort?
The best way to get to Universal Orlando will depend on where you’re staying.
Take a look at the price of a cab on Lyft or Uber before making a choice.
If you drive, you’ll have to pay at least $27 a day in parking charges at Universal.
If you’re getting a cab to the parks, there is a handy drop-off and pick-up point situated on the roof of the main multi-storey car park.
This is pretty close to the security entrance and will save you walking from the other end of the car park.
We paid between 15 and 20 dollars for an Uber or Lyft for a return trip as we stayed on International Drive.
The I-Ride Trolley Green Line will also get you to Universal Boulevard – it’s only a short walk from thereafter.
Hiring a Locker
If you can travel light, then it’s definitely best to do so.
On rides where the carriage/vehicle has closed sides (such as the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man and the Jurassic Park River Adventure) you can take your belongings with you.
However, on all the rollercoasters and many other rides, any personal possessions must be placed in a locker before you enter the queue.
If you’ve got a bum bag (or fanny pack as the Americans say), then this is a great option to wear.
As it is securely clipped around your waist, you can take this on the rides with you.
Definitely handy if you’re riding alone and want to keep your phone on you while you wait!
If you do need to use the lockers, luckily the small ones are free (hooray).
These are 14 in x 5.5 in x 16.9 in, and are big enough to store a couple of phones, wallets and sunglasses etc, however larger bags won’t fit.
Larger lockers can be rented for an additional cost and measure (12 in x 13 in x 16.9 in). We can’t remember exact costs, but we think it was around $2 per large locker rental.
If you’re happy drinking water, this is a free and easy way to keep yourself hydrated in the parks.
You can take in your own bottle or refillable cup with you and use any of the self-refill drinks stations to top this up with water.
If you’re planning to be at the parks for most of the day, another option is to buy one of Universal’s refillable cups.
You pay a fee of around $15 for the cup, however you can then refill it as many times as you want throughout the day.
We got one of these and then shared it between us to make it worthwhile.
There are chips in the bottom of the cups however, so if you bring it back another day you won’t be able to refill unless you reactivate the cup at one of the kiosks.
This is around $9 for the day, or you can pay a one-off fee for each drink.
Food and where to eat
You aren’t short of food choice at the Universal Resort.
Each park has a huge array of food stalls, coffee shops and restaurants to pick from depending on what you fancy.
If you’re in the mood for a hotdog or churro, or a sit down meal, you won’t need to look too far.
Mythos Restaurant – Islands of Adventure
Certainly one of Ben’s favourite places to eat is the Mythos Restaurant at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Over towards the ‘Lost Continent’ area of the park, you can’t really miss its dramatic exterior that features gods and waterfalls carved out of solid rock.
Inside, is equally as cool where the water features and rock formation decor continues throughout. If you sit close to the lake side of the restaurant, you’ll be treated to beautiful views while you eat.
If you are interested in trying it out, try to get there before the lunch time rush.
Mythos opens at 11am and closes at 9pm.
City Walk Restaurants
As we had hopper tickets and could enter and exit the parks as much as we wanted to, we found that heading out to CityWalk was the best option for grabbing lunch.
Open from 8am to 12am, CityWalk is Universal’s ‘Epicenter of Awesome’.
Here you’ll find a variety of shops, bars and restaurants including a Hard Rock Cafe, Bend the Bao and Cold Stone Creamery to name a few.
We generally headed to the Hard Rock Cafe, as there was always plenty of seating and it gave a nice respite from the busy parks!
How much does Universal Orlando Cost?
They cost us around £265 each, which (although we understand it is still quite a lot of money) was a pretty good deal, we thought.
If you buy the tickets directly from Universal, you’re looking at around $327 per person for only five days access to the three parks.
You can purchase different ticket options for Universal Orlando Resort depending on which parks you want to visit.
We bought 14-day hopper style tickets which gave us access to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.
With these tickets you can visit each park as much as your heart desires.
“Having the hopper style tickets is a great option, as you don’t feel pressured to stay from opening to closing just to get your money’s worth”
It just activates from the first day you use it.
While we never actually made it to Volcano Bay, we went back to both theme parks a number of times during our holiday.
Having the hopper style tickets is a great option, as you don’t feel pressured to stay from opening to closing just to get your money’s worth.
Plus, you’re not committed to going on any particular days if your plans – or the weather – change!
Stay for the Evening Light Shows
For us, we’d usually get there for opening, stay for a few hours until the parks started to fill up, and then leave to do something else with the remainder of our day.
We also did a couple of evenings in the parks which was a must!
It’s brilliant to get a different view of the sights (particularly Hogwarts) when everything is lit up.
The Hogwarts light show starts between 7pm and 8pm (depending on the time of year) when it gets dark.
It lasts for around 5 minutes and is definitely worth a watch!
Shop Around Before You Buy
Having the hopper tickets really gives you the best flexibility.
It’s definitely worth shopping around before you commit to a purchase, as you can often get some good deals on certain ticket sites throughout the year.
Black Friday in particular was a happy hunting ground for us.