Welcome Back to our Friday Blog Series: Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s, where our favorite Travel Planning Aficionado shares her wealth of knowledge and experiences about traveling the world! After every trip to a new destination, Jamie gives us her perspective as both a traveler, and a travel advisor, through a quick but comprehensive list of what to do or not do at each vacation location!
As many of you who follow along know, Jamie and about half of the Love of the Magic Team recently returned from an amazing weekend at Universal Studios Orlando! And also as many of you know, Jamie has always been a huge fan of all the Theme Parks Orlando has to offer, so while many of our blogs tend to focus on Disney, we don’t want anyone to forget about the incredible experiences that are waiting for you at Universal Studios!
So Let’s Go to Universal Studios Orlando! But First…
Table of Contents
Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s for Universal Studios
Top Favorites and Jamie’s “Must-Do” Experiences
Do Purchase “Park to Park” Tickets
Purchasing Park to Park Tickets is absolutely the number one DO for a fantastic Universal Studios experience. If you are a Disney regular, you’ll be familiar with the “Park Hopper” Ticket option, and Universal’s “Park to Park” Ticket option is the same general idea, with some key differences. First, a Park to Park Ticket to Orlando Studios is offered in two options: for 2 Parks or 3 Parks. Universal’s three Parks are Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay (a Water Park).
Unlike with a Disney Park Hopper Ticket, with the Universal Park to Park Ticket, there is no time restriction on when you can leave your first Park and enter your second (or third). So, let’s say you got a Park to Park Ticket for 3 Parks; if you got an early start, made it to a few attractions in each Theme Park (just a few because you can’t get to everything in one day), and are too hot to keep walking around, you can head over to Volcano Bay to cool off!
Plus, another reason to get a Park to Park ticket is the proximity between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The entrances to each Park are a short ten minute walk across City Walk from each other, which means that a significant portion of your day won’t be spent on transportation from Park to Park.
But, perhaps the most important reason to choose a Park to Park Ticket over a Base Ticket is so that you can ride the Hogwarts Express. With Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade each in a different Universal Park, Harry Potter enthusiasts cannot get the full experience, or the experience of boarding and riding the Hogwarts Express, without a Park to Park Ticket. So, a Park to Park Ticket is absolutely imperative for Harry Potter fans. In addition, because the Hogwarts Express connects the Parks through the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter, you don’t even need to walk across City Walk to get from one to the other, you just board a Magical Train, and poof, you’re in the other Park! Magical, indeed!
Do Stay on Property at a Universal Resort
Universal has truly amazing Resorts to choose from that complement and enhance your Park experience. For one, it’s not just the Parks that are walking distance to each other at Universal; most of the Resorts are actually walking distance to the Parks as well, so you are able to get in more Park time, and have less travel time by staying on property.
Again, like Disney, Universal has different levels of Resorts, depending on what kind of experience you are looking for, but Universal’s Resorts are categorized as Premier, Preferred, Prime Value and Value. Each level has its own perks and reasons for staying there, but the Premier Resorts really do take your Park experience to the next level, literally: included with your stay at a Premier Resort is a FREE Universal Express Pass Unlimited for everyone in your party who has valid Park admission. With a stay at a Premier Universal Resort, you get the best of the best Resorts, and also the best of the best Park experiences, too, which is definitely a win/win.
Do Plan to Visit During a Festival or Special Event
Universal has no shortage of Festivals and Special Events that can spice up (or even scare up) your already thrilling vacation. In fact, some of our past blogs have featured Universal’s Holiday Happenings, such as Halloween Horror Nights, Christmas in the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter, and Grinchmas, which you can find at the following links:
In addition, Universal hosts an incredible Party for Mardi Gras called International Flavors of Carnival, with a parade full of extravagant floats and tons of music, drinks and food throughout the Parks. And speaking of music, Universal hosts dozens of concerts across their many venues, including top billed artists, and there are also comedian shows hosted throughout Universal, too.
Top Tips that Jamie Learned Along the Way
Plan to Get Your Snack On
We all know that full days in the Parks require ample sustenance, and when it comes to snacks, Universal has no shortage of delicious options. While there are a myriad of mouth-watering choices, here are Jamie’s Current Top Five Snack options at Universal:
In all forms! Hot (Jamie’s fav, and perfect on the rare cooler days in Florida), Frozen, Iced, and as Ice Cream; no matter how you choose to get it, just make sure you get it somehow, because Butterbeer is the BEST and worth a trip to Universal in itself! Butterbeer is available in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, and the Ice Cream version is available at Florean Fortesque’s Ice Cream Parlor in Diagon Alley.
– Pizza Fries
What could be better than a snack combining two of America’s favorite foods, pizza and fries? Seriously, it’s a wonder why restaurants all over the country aren’t serving up Pizza Fries on the daily. But, don’t worry, when you’re at Universal Studios, you’re in luck because they’re served at Louie’s Italian Restaurant (if you don’t see them listed on the menu, you should ask about availability, since their popularity does cause them to sell out sometimes).
– Loaded Tots
Tater Tots are super tasty on their own, but smothered in toppings with options of Pizza Tots (plus a Vegan Pizza Tot option, too), Buffalo Chicken Tots, Green Eggs & Ham Tots, Who Hash, and Carnitas Tots? Um, hello delicious! Your preferred Tot variety is available at the Green Eggs & Ham Cafe at Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure.
– Twisted Taters
Another amazing potato option (great for Jamie’s fellow Gluten Free friends, though of course, double check the toppings to make sure everything meets your own dietary needs)! Twisted Tater booths pop up in Kidzone and Gramercy Park during Halloween Horror Nights, and have also been known to make a comeback for Mardi Gras, too, so be sure to look for them if you’re there during one of those festivals!
– The Big Pink Donut
A Homer Simpson favorite! And not to be missed for all Donut lovers, of course! You can get a Big Pink Donut in original form, or as a D’oh-Nut Sundae, at Lard Lad Donuts, Kwik-E-Mart, or at the Krusty Burger Food Court in Springfield, the Simpson’s-Themed area in Universal Studios.
Make Reservations at Top Restaurants
Although making dining reservations at Universal doesn’t usually incur the panic of preparing for your Disney dining window to open (which your LOTMV Travel Advisor can always alleviate for you), it is still highly recommended to make reservations at Universal’s top-rated and most popular restaurants well in advance. You can make reservations for sit-down dining restaurants at Universal starting 180 days ahead of time. Wondering where you should choose to dine? Some of Jamie’s top picks, where she always makes sure to get reservations, are: The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen, The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar (both located in CityWalk), and Mythos Restaurant at Islands of Adventure.
Plan Ahead for the Big Rides
“Wait, I thought you didn’t have to reserve ride times at Universal?” Yes, that is correct; if you choose to purchase Universal’s Express Pass, then you don’t need to make a return time, like you do at Disney with Genie+ and Lightning Lane. However, that’s not the kind of “Planning Ahead” I’m talking about here. While Universal has small rides that are great for kids of all ages, and even some more medium ride options as of late, too (such as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure), there are still the classic Big Rides that Universal is known for, with drops, corkscrews and upside-down elements that can make even the most daring thrill-seeker feel a little shaky.
So, in this case, by planning ahead, I mean planning your day so that you’re not getting on the biggest, baddest rides right before or right after having a large meal (your stomach will thank me). In addition, it’s often helpful to purchase something that mitigates motion sickness, such as SeaBands for your wrists, or one of the patches that are available over the counter, before you arrive at the Parks. Personally, I use SeaBands because they work with a natural pressure point on the wrists, and they’re easy to slip on and off when you either need or don’t need them, and they help with nausea, dizziness and headaches.
Top “Must-Don’t”s, or Things Jamie Would Do Differently
Don’t Try to Squeeze Universal Into One Day
As much as many Disney enthusiasts would like to think it’s possible to bop over to Universal for one day and be able to get the full experience, all of Universal is just not possible to cram into one day. And that’s not a bad thing! What it means is that there’s so much Universal has to offer, and so many incredible things to experience while you’re there! In actuality, if you try to squeeze all of Universal into one day, you’ll likely wind up stressed from trying to do too much at once, and exhausted from covering so much ground.
Universal Studios is a complete Theme Park experience with three action-packed Parks, as mentioned above. Therefore, the minimum number of days you should plan to spend at Universal is at least three, one for each park, though of course it’s possible to stay busy and entertained at Universal for a week or even more. Could you get away with two days and skip the water park? You could, but it’s not recommended, because Volcano Bay is an amazing water park, with many people describing it as the best water park they’ve ever been to, so it’s not a place you want to miss out on.
Don’t Assume an Express Pass is Too Expensive
Although some people automatically equate Universal’s Express Pass with Disney’s Genie+/Lightning Lane System, they’re actually pretty different except for the fact that both are ways to spend less time in line. Universal’s Express Pass is available in two forms: One Time Use, and Unlimited. You don’t have to reserve a time to use the Express Pass; instead, you just walk on the Express Line as opposed to the Stand-by line for either one ride, or all the rides that have an Express Line with the Unlimited option (currently Hagrid’s Motorbike and VelociCoaster do not have Express Lines).
While an Express Pass can get pricey depending on the time of year you’re traveling (school breaks, Holidays and Summer are always considered Peak season and therefore more expensive), there are ways to save on Express Passes, even during Peak seasons! Your favorite Love of the Magic Travel Advisor knows all the tricks to get you the best price possible for Universal Express Passes, whatever time of year you’re traveling!
Don’t Miss Halloween Horror Nights
Halloween Horror Nights has won Awards for being the Best Halloween Event for thirteen years and counting, and for good reason. It is quite possibly the scariest (staged) thing you will experience in your life, complete with numerous Haunted Houses, terrifying characters who jump out at you, chilling live shows and the creepiest, eeriest atmosphere you can imagine.
However, Halloween Horror Nights are not for the faint of heart. You should not go, or take people to this event, if feeling scared is not something you or they enjoy. And even if your kids are over the age requirement of 13, it’s still a pretty intense experience, so you should help your child decide based on how you know they respond to frightening things. With all that said, if you choose not to attend the nighttime event, you can still get in on the Halloween action at Universal by going during the day. In the light of day, you can still see all the spooky decorations around the parks without it being super scary in the dark.
Don’t Assume a VIP Tour is Over Budget
If you’re one of those people who hears “VIP” and stops listening because you know it will be too expensive, LISTEN UP, because Universal’s VIP Tours are actually way more within your reach than you think! Universal’s VIP Tours are available in Private and Semi-Private options, which right there offers a more affordable choice than many other VIP experiences. Plus, Universal’s VIP Tours are seven-hour guided walking tours that include Front of the Line Access to 10-12 Attractions (Front of the Line Access is NOT the Express Line; instead you actually walk on to the ride from the exit so there is literally no line, AND you even get Front of the Line Access for the rides that don’t have an Express Line, like Hagrid’s Motorbike and VelociCoaster), a full sit-down Lunch, Behind-the-Scenes Access (because, in case you forgot, Universal Studios is a Theme Park and Movie Studio), an Unlimited Express Pass to use once your Tour is over, and Free Parking.
When you add up the value of everything you get on a VIP Tour at Universal, the difference between the price of the Tour and an Unlimited Express Pass is not as much as you’d think (and considering the Front of the Line Access to Hagrid’s Motorbike and VelociCoaster, the value of the VIP Tour may literally be priceless, since buying your way around the line any other way is impossible). Plus, if you absolutely refuse to spend more than one day at Universal, a VIP tour may actually be your very best option to getting the most out of your limited time. As always, your favorite LOTMV Travel Advisor will know all the benefits of every option!
And…that’s a wrap of Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s for Universal Studios Orlando!
Ready to Plan?
Now that you have all of Jamie’s best advice for the most amazing time at Universal Studios Orlando, are you plan your next thrilling Theme Park Adventure? Contact your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor or email hello@LOTMV.com to start planning today!
Just like last year, in 2023, a new Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s list will come out the Friday after Jamie returns from her latest trip! And you can find links to all of Jamie’s 2022 Travel Tips at this Blog: Jamie’s 2022 Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s: A Recap.
Looking for more of Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s?
So far, this year, we have:
And don’t forget to check out our Inspiring Itineraries as well, featuring a Perfect Plan for your next vacation, and highlighting a new destination each month! You can find links to all of 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries in this Blog: A Year of Inspired Travel: 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries, Month by Month.