Universal Orlando Resort, Florida: A Guide to the Parks

Universal OrlandoMy obsession with theme parks in Florida doesn’t start and end with Disney World.  Universal Orlando Resort is also a major highlight of any trip to Orlando for me.  Located just off the I-4, Universal Orlando Resort has two theme parks, various hotels, a water park and a shopping and restaurant complex.  There’s plenty of ground to explore so for now, here’s my guide to getting the best from the theme parks during your Universal Orlando Resort visit!

A Guide to Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Studios

Universal Studios is home to some of the best thrill rides in the Orlando area!  The minute you walk through the turnstiles you’re greeted with ‘Rip, Ride, Rocket’ – an intense G-Force rollercoaster with a bit of a scary start!  There’s also ‘Revenge of the mummy’ – based on the popular franchise starring Brenden Fraser which brings surprises at every turn.  Revenge of the Mummy is definitely one of my favourite rides at Universal.

Further on in the park, you’ve got the Universal classics such as ‘Men in Black’ and ‘The Simpsons Ride’ which are kid friends and ones that all the family can enjoy.  There’s also the new ‘Jimmy Fallon: Race through New York’ ride and ‘Transformers’ which are perfect for family members who aren’t fans of roller coasters.  Universal Orlando LOVES a good 4D experience and you’ll find many of these rides littered throughout both parks.

Universal Studios is also the place to go to get both your Minions and Shrek fixes with ‘Despicable Me: Minion mayhem where you and your family are turned into real life minions and Shrek 4D where you’ll need your OgreVision glasses to join in the fun!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal OrlandoOf course, one of the main draws for me to Universal Studios is ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’.  As an HP obsessive, I get pretty excited at the thought of immersing myself into the wizarding world and the Diagon Alley section of the park allows visitors to do just that!  Diagon Alley is home to the ‘Escape from Gringotts’ ride as well as Olivanders, The Leaky Cauldron and the entrance to Knockturn Alley (for all your dark wizarding needs!)

Once you’re done exploring Diagon Alley, you can hop on the train from Kings Cross (Platform 9 and 3/4 of course) and head up to Hogwarts via Hogsmeade.

Food wise, I know my friend ‘A Clairey Tale’ loves to eat at ‘Mel’s Drive-In’ which is fairly near the entrance.  You can get great burgers and fries there amongst other things.  One thing I haven’t mentioned yet (and probably should) is that at Universal you can buy Coke Freestyle cups that you can fill up all over the park with unlimited refills.  The cups are around $15 and if you have a cup from a previous visit you can reactivate it on the day for around $8… not bad if you’re a big family! Good value for money.  There are 13 refill stations across the two parks.

If burgers aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other options available; tacos, pizza, seafood.  I really like Finnegan’s Bar and Grill (good Irish style food – bangers and mash… YESSS!!) and, of course, I have to recommend The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley (also good bangers and mash!)

Islands of Adventure

Amazing photo by @thatfloridaguy1

I have to admit, Islands of Adventure is my favourite of the two Universal parks.  I love the rides and the theming of this side just that little bit more than Universal Studios.  Firstly, if you have a two-park pass, don’t forget you can take the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9 & 3/4 at Kings Cross in Universal Studios which will take you into Islands Of Adventure via Hogsmeade.So we may as well start there… Hogsmeade!

The original part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  A wonderful snow-covered street, winding around to lead to the main attraction itself; Hogwarts!  There’s so much to do in Hogsmeade.  There are currently two rides (‘Forbidden Journey’ and ‘Flight of the Hippogriff’ – with another in development), a vast array of shopping including Honeydukes the sweet shop, Ollivanders: Makers of fine wands and various other gift shops to satisfy your wizarding shopping needs.  You can grab lunch at The Three Broomsticks or if it’s Butterbeer you’re craving – there’s a cart that sells it by the glass load.  Personally, I prefer frozen Butterbeer which is a bit more subtle in taste.  Don’t forget to check out the shows on the stage at the top of the street (right by the castle!)

If you’re looking for more thrill rides, head on over to ‘Marvel Super Hero Island’ which is the home of the newly refurbished ‘The Incredible Hulk Coaster’, ‘Doctor Doom’s Fearfall’ and ‘The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man’.  Be warned, The Hulk is a bit of a headbanger but there is nothing more exhilarating than being shot out the top of that coaster at 40mph in 2 seconds.

Water rides your thing? Don’t worry, Islands of Adventure will make sure you get VERY WET with both ‘Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges’ and ‘Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls’.  I’m not even going to pretend these are the sort of water rides where you get splashed a bit and you’re dry within the hour… YOU’RE NOT! You get soaked right down to your underwear and it takes hours for you to dry – even in the Florida sunshine!  You can either invest in a poncho, bring spare clothes or endure being damp for the rest of the day.  We tend to ride both of these rides one after the other – may as well get it all over with all together!

There’s also a whole area dedicated to Jurassic Park so if you live with a dino mad explorer **cough Adam** this will satisfy their desires in every way.  Again, you may get wet on the ‘Jurassic Park River Adventure’ but nothing compared to the ones before.  I also thoroughly recommend doing the Raptor experience if you want to get up close with dinosaurs – just be careful you don’t put your head too close!  There’s also a ride where adults have to be accompanied by a child (don’t even get me started on Adam’s disappointment!)

Green Eggs and Ham was my favourite book growing up so of course, I have to indulge in the land of Dr. Seuss.  Even as an adult I love to ride ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and there’s plenty there to keep the kids entertained – including character meets.

Going at a busy time? Speed up your day!

One thing I am a huge advocate of its the Universal Express pass.  These little passes get you to pretty much the front of every queue with minimal wait time across the two parks (including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!)  I’ve used them on my last two trips and I honestly wouldn’t visit Universal now without them during a busy period.  I’d rather spend my day exploring Diagon Alley that waiting in queues and the Express Pass gives you the freedom to really explore the park, taking as much time as you need!  They are an additional cost to your park tickets but free if you’re staying at a Universal hotel. If you stay for one night, you’ll get two days of Express Passes for everybody booked into the room; one for the day you check in, one for the next day when you check out.  Many people take this option to get the passes rather than just pay for them.  It depends on how many people are staying in the room but check to see which option could be cheaper for you.

And don’t forget to download the Universal Studios Orlando app which shows you lots of useful information such as wait times, park opening hours and where you can eat.

So those are my top tips for getting the most out of your theme parks visits at Universal Orlando Resort.  What’s your favourite part of the resort?

**Huge thank you to some of my Florida friend and super talented photographer @thatfloridaguy1 for helping me out with a few photos. All photos credited. Go check out his page**

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