Thinking about visiting Universal Theme Park? Here is what you need to know!
- Ticket Prices
- What’s in each park?
- What you need to know at a Glance
- Explain Express Pass
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Pros and Cons
- Little Things We Love
- Park to Park (Admission to both parks)
- 1 Day – Adult $147 | Child $142
- 2 Day – Adult $195 | Child $185
- 3 Day – Adult $205 | Child $195
- 4 Day – Adult $215 | Child $205
- Single Park (Admission to a single park)
- 1 Day – Adult $102 | Child $97
- 2 Day – Adult $150 | Child $140
- 3 Day – Adult $160 | Child $150
- 4 Day – Adult $170 | Child $160
- Add Express Pass (price is based on the date of your visit)
- Express Pass (Once per attraction per day)
- Both Parks | $60 – $95
- Single Parks | $65 – $110
- Express Unlimited (Unlimited per attraction per day)
- Both Parks | $90 – $140
- Single Park | $80 – $130
- Express Pass (Once per attraction per day)
Universal Orlando Resort contains two parks full of rides, shows and fun: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
The great news is that these two parks are close enough to each other that it’s easy to get from one park to another. Walk or take the Hogwarts Express Train! But be aware if you want to jump from one park to another on the same day, you will have to pay extra for a park-to-park pass.
What does each park contain?
Universal Studios is the original park, and it has some of the oldest rides to prove its age. Not only does this park have a ton of amazing rides, but it’s also got plenty of family-friendly shows. There are a lot of things to do, so get there early if you want to experience it all! Favorites? Merely walking around Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley is an amazing experience. And don’t miss the Simpson’s area. For thrill-seekers, try Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Transformers, and the Revenge of the Mummy. Even the little ones (toddlers) can find a lot of play area in the Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone. There’s something for everyone at Universal Studios.
Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure is Universal’s newer park. It’s a bit smaller in scale and in our opinion, a bit easier to maneuver. If we had to pick, this would probably be our favorite of the two. Islands of Adventure doesn’t have as many shows as Universal Studios, but the rides are fun and plentiful. Some of our favorite areas? In Marvel Super Hero Island you’ll find the awesome The Incredible Hulk Coaster, a must experience for thrill seekers. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a great 3D/4D ride you won’t want to miss. For young kids, Seuss Landing has a lot of fun rides and attractions. Our favorite? The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. And of course whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, chances are you’ll be thrilled with the many things to do in Hogsmeade.
*Be aware that in both parks, and on most rides, you won’t be able to take bags (purses or backpacks). Lockers are provided, but these lockers are not large so smaller bags are recommended.
What you need to know at a Glance:
- There are two parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
- Many rides and children’s play areas are out doors, so if it’s storming, these areas will close down.
- You will have to put your bags/purses in lockers for most rides.
- Some shows are standing only, so if your feet are tired you may want to skip them and find a nice shaded bench instead. Ask the Universal staff if you aren’t sure if the show is standing only.
- Cameras and videotaping are denied on most rides. Of course you can take them into the park, but keep them in your bags for the rides.
- If you don’t want to wait in long lines, pay extra for an Express Pass, or stay in a Universal approved hotel that comes with an Express Pass.
- The Harry Potter areas are always packed, so get there early, first thing in the morning!
- People who stay at the Universal hotels may be able to get into the Harry Potter areas an hour before park opens. So even if you get to the areas first thing, they might already have visitors. But it’s still best to get there as soon as possible.
- There are four Universal hotels (although not all 4 give Express Passes) and most are within walking distance to the two parks.
- Yes, there are plenty of places to eat inside the parks, as well as outside.
- You will need a special Park to Park pass to get from one park to another during the same day. You can get to each park by walking, or taking the Hogswarts Express.
Express Pass and How it Works?
One thing you’ll notice at the Universal Theme Parks is that for most rides/attractions there are two lines: a line for regular visitors and one line for those with an Express Pass.
What is an Express Pass and do you need one? An Express Pass means you won’t have to stand in those long lines. You’ll cut your waiting experience by at least half, if not much, much more. If you hate waiting and want to get in as many activities as possible, you’ll definitely want an Express Pass.
How do you get one? There are two ways to get an Express Pass: pay for it, or stay in a Universal approved hotel that comes with Express Passes. If you aren’t staying in a Universal hotel, then be prepared…Express Passes aren’t cheap and will cost you around $100 per person, per day. That’s $100 added onto the price of your ticket. If you decide to stay in a Universal approved hotel (which is often the cheaper alternative to buying the Express Pass), be aware that only a couple hotels give you the Express Pass, and these hotels are on the high-priced side.
Final note: whether you’re deciding to buy the Express Pass, or stay in an Express Pass approved hotel, make sure to crunch the numbers. Depending on the time of year, you might find it a better deal to stay in the approved hotel; just make sure it’s a hotel that comes with the Express Pass. In the end, if you’re going at peak season (Holidays and Summers), and if you have the extra cash, you’ll probably want an Express Pass.
*Be aware that some rides in the Harry Potter areas do not use the Express Pass so you’ll have to wait in line. Get to these areas first thing in the morning to avoid very long waits. It should be noted that the Harry Potter areas do open an hour early upon occasion for those staying in a Universal Hotel.
Many guests come to the Universal Parks just to visit the amazing Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I admit, it was something that first attracted us to Universal. And we weren’t disappointed in the least. Both Wizarding Worlds are definitely worth a visit whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not. Below are a few things you need to know about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that just might make your visit a bit easier:
- There are two Harry Potter sections: Hogsmeade Village can be found at Islands of Adventure, while Diagon Alley can be found at Universal Park. Make sure you don’t miss the darker Knockturn Alley that is connected to Diagon Alley.
- Traveling: You can travel from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley by walking from park to park, or taking the Hogwarts Express Train. But to go from park to park (either by walking or taking the train) you’ll have to pay extra for a Park to Park ticket. Ask Universal Employees for help in buying your tickets!
- Rides: Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) Not including the Hogwarts Express (which you can only ride if you have a Park to Park ticket) has three rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (located inside the castle), Flight of the Hippogriff (a Roller Coaster geared toward younger children), and Dragon Challenge (a high-speed, thrilling roller coaster).
- Rides: Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) Not including the Hogwarts Express, has only one ride: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (a thrilling 3D multidimensional ride).
- Restaurant: Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) has a variety of food carts where you can grab a snack on the go. Want to sit down with your meal? Then head into our favorite restaurant, Three Broomsticks, where you can find a variety of favorite foods, and toss it all down with a tasty Butterbeer.
- Restaurant: Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) you can find The Leaky Cauldron restaurant. Just to warn you, they have a very traditional British menu which a lot of kids might not care for. And yes, you can find Butterbeer here too!
- Wands: Of course you can’t go to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley without buying a wand. But be prepared, it will cost you! Wands are about $40 or more, depending on what kind you buy. At both Universal parks, you can buy your wand at Ollivanders. Yes, there is a show, but if you don’t want to wait in the long line just head on into the actual store and have a universal employee help you find your wand.
- Doing Spells. Yes, you can do spells with your wand from Ollivanders, but there’s a catch. If you want to do spells, you’ll have to pay a little more for an interactive wand. These wands have glass tips, but ask a Universal Employee to make sure you get the correct wand. With your interactive wand you’ll also get a map. This map will mark certain locations where you can do spells.
- Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (Knockturn Alley too), have places to practice your spells. If you can’t find the spots then look on your map, or look for the bronze circle plaques on the ground, and as a last resort just look for the line of kids waving their arms around in the air. These spells can be a bit tricky, as you have to move your hand in a specific way for each spell. The plaques on the ground will show you how to wave your hand, but it can still be difficult. If all else fails, find a Universal employee for help. What are the spells? Most of the magic takes place behind windows of shops: things will light up, move, even rain will fall. It’s pretty cool! The only downside is your wand only produces magic at Universal and you’ll be forced to carry the awkward wand around with you throughout the park.
- Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley have plenty to do. You can find shopping, a treat/candy shop, pubs to buy kid-friendly drinks, and even an ice-cream parlor! Believe me, you’ll want to spend at least an hour in each section.
Want to go to a theme park in Orlando, but not sure where to go?
- Express Pass. This pass will get you on rides much quicker than if you had to stand in the regular lines. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. First of all, the Express Pass does not work on all of the Harry Potter Rides, which have some of the longest lines at the parks. Second, getting an Express Pass will cost you. You’ll either have to pay extra for each day (and it’s not cheap), or stay in one of their more expensive hotels.
- Say goodbye to your family. Unfortunately, when boarding a ride you might have to sit with strangers. Whereas other theme parks (Disney) try to keep families together, Universal has no qualms about breaking families apart. Yep, it’s true. You might not be sitting with your family for a ride. Even worse, if you’re an introvert, you’ll be forced to sit with strangers! Gasp!
- Hotels. There are only 4 hotels (soon to be 5) on Universal property, and they aren’t cheap. The least expensive hotel is a bit of a drive/walk to the parks, and doesn’t come with the Express Pass. The more expensive hotels are closer to the park, which is great! You can even walk, but they cost more. You’ll also find adult conference attendees at these hotels. In other words, they aren’t super family orientated.
- In the off season, parks close early! On our first visit to Universal during the month of February we were surprised to find out that the parks closed at seven in the evening. If you plan to have dinner at a park during these early closing hours, check times as restaurants close early as well.
- No Cameras, no Video Taping. Forget bringing your cameras on rides, as you can’t video tape most of them and can rarely take pictures while on the rides! We can certainly understand not wanting cameras on rides such as rollercoasters, but kiddie rides? Want to get a picture of your child while you two are on the completely harmless Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl? Nope. No cameras allowed. It can be a bit obnoxious and employees are very adamant about following this rule.
- Employees aren’t as knowledgeable as employees at other theme parks (Disney). We were told both Universal parks opened early to those staying in Universal hotels. Yet, when we got up super early and walked to Universal Studios, it was closed. This meant we had to rush back over to Islands of Adventure. By the time we got there it was already open and we’d lost our early morning advantage. After talking to other guests, they confirmed that this wasn’t the first time a mistake had been made by Universal staff.
- Harry Potter! Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan you’ll appreciate Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Universal did a fantastic job building these two areas and making it feel as if you’re part of the Harry Potter universe. It’s truly amazing and we could have spent all day there! We can’t say enough great things about these two areas. Head back to the Harry Potter areas as soon as the park opens as they get crowded fast. Even when the rest of the park isn’t full, you’ll find the Harry Potter areas packed. And don’t forget your wand!
- Universal is for All Ages. I’m not sure where the rumor got started that Universal isn’t for small kids. We were actually surprised by how much there was to do for younger ones. No, they do not have as many kiddie rides as Disney. But, there are lots of play areas and quite a few rides for young kids, and plenty of thrill rides for the older ones! And for those who don’t want to go on a ride, there are lots of shows. Universal is a great place for families of all ages.
- Water, Water and more Water…Rides. Head to Islands of Adventure and you’ll find three amazing water rides. You won’t just get a little wet, you’ll get soaked. Which, I suppose, could be a pro or con depending upon what you like! If you’re one of those people who is disappointed when you go on a water ride and just get a mist, you won’t be at Islands of Adventure. Be prepared to get drenched, which is welcome on those hot summer days. There are dryers for an extra cost, but you’ll want to wear clothes that dry fast and bring flip-flops.
- Simpsons and Marvel. Yes, Harry Potter is amazing, but that’s not the only land where you’ll find some super cool fun. Kids and adults will be pretty impressed when they step into the Simpson’s town of Springfield found at Universal Studios. Get your picture with the characters, go on two rides, and eat lunch at Moe’s Tavern. Then head on over to Islands of Adventure to meet up with your favorite superheroes. Between The Incredible Hulk Coater and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Marvel Super Hero Island has some of the best rides of both parks.
- Express Pass. Yes, it costs to get this pass and that can be a con. But if you have the money, this pass will be a huge time saver. Pick a pass that allows you one Express Pass per ride, or a pass that has an unlimited use and you can use the express as much as you want!
- Hotels. Yes, the hotels are expensive and there aren’t many, but most of the hotels are within walking distance to the parks. Even better, if you stay in the more expensive hotels, you’ll get Express Passes included in your stay!
- Two Great Parks. It’s true, there are only two parks. But because there are only two, this means you can go to Universal and get everything done within a couple days. You can make your trip a short holiday, or extend it and take your time, going on the rides as much as you want.
- Did we mention Harry Potter?
Little Things We Love:
These aren’t necessarily rides, these are just fun, interesting, or downright cool things that, in our opinion, everyone should experience at least once when visiting Universal Parks.
- The large pink-frosted donut in the Simpsons area at Universal Studios. So delicious, so enormous, and they feed 2+, depending on how much you eat.
- Banana slushy in the Simpsons area at Duff Brewery. Another Universal visitor recommended this drink, and he was right…it’s delicious! You don’t find banana flavor very often, which makes this a unique must-try! It’s also perfect on a hot day. Of course if you don’t like banana flavor, you won’t like this slushy.
- Even if you’re not a Transformers fan, you have to check out the Transformer’s Meet and Greet behind the ride. This robot is massive and interactive and there truly isn’t another meet and greet like it. If you don’t want to wait in line, just walk by to see what the fuss is about.
- Harry Potters Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Okay, so it’s kind of a given, but these two areas have to be our favorite places at both Universal Parks. Universal did an amazing job at making visitors feel like they are in the Harry Potter movies. And don’t forget to go down the darker Knockturn Alley, located off Diagon Alley in Universal, especially if you want to escape the crowds, as many people don’t notice the area.
- Buying an interactive wand at Ollivander’s in the Harry Potter areas. No, you don’t need to wait in line to see the show, just head into the store and pick one out. Yes, they’re expensive at $40 or more, but if you have the extra cash it truly adds to the magical experience. Make sure the wand is interactive (they have a glass tip), and you’ll actually be able to perform “spells!” Ask Universal employees if you aren’t sure if the wand you picked is interactive. The only downside is your kids will probably only use the wand when at Universal, and you’ll be forced to carry the wand around the park.
- Our favorite meal? Head to either Thunder Falls Terrace or Three Broomsticks, both at Islands of Adventure, and get the Rotiserre Chicken and Corn on the Cob. Our absolute favorite meal! Delicious! And if you’re at Three Broomsticks, you might as well add on a Butterbeer (tastes like a buttery cream soda)!
- Seeing Suess Landing during night at Islands of Adventure! It’s not just for little kids, all the colorful lights will truly add to your magical experience. Even better, go on the outdoor rides! You’ll feel like a child again.