A first-timer's guide to Universal Orlando Resort Florida

Portia Jones

Portia Jones

Looking to step inside your favourite movies? Head to Universal Orlando Resort for an array of theme parks and entertainment that all pay homage to Hollywood.

Arriving at Universal Orlando Resort
Arriving at Universal Orlando Resort - photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Split across three parks, you'll find epic coasters, water slides, immersive simulators, screen-based experiences and live shows that bring popular TV shows, films and franchises to life.

This vast resort also features official hotels and a huge shopping, dining and entertainment complex, CityWalk Orlando.

Ready to explore one of the most visited resorts in the world? Our handy guide will give you tips and tricks to make the most of your first-time visit to Universal Orlando.

Getting to Orlando: check out the current offers on breaks to Florida with TUI*.

Universal Studios

You're the star at Universal Studios Florida where you can immerse yourself in the magical world of cinema. The park was designed to give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at moviemaking, and many of the park's attractions are based on popular films and TV shows.

Universal has drastically upped its game in recent years with the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and the towering Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Coaster.

There are still a few fan favourites here, including the recently revamped Revenge Of The Mummy ride, Men In Black Alien Attack and E.T. Adventure, one of the park's oldest and most beloved attractions.

Taking the Studio Tour
Taking the Studio Tour - photo courtesy of Universal Studios

For ardent film fans, Universal's strong>World-Famous Studio Tour is a must! Go behind the scenes of a working studio and see where some of your favourite films and television shows are filmed.

Join virtual host Jimmy Fallon on a multi-car tram tour of film sets, including Universal movies Psycho, Back to the Future, The Sting, and The Great Outdoors.

One of the other main draws is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a bucket list item for fans of the franchise who want the ultimate Hogwarts experience in the Sunshine State.

It's a large, themed area spread between Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure, and you can travel between the two on a life-size replica of the famous Hogwarts Express.

All aboard the Hogwarts Express
All aboard the Hogwarts Express - photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Wander the enchanted Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and discover its famous establishments before donning a cloak and picking up a wand at Ollivanders, dining at The Leaky Cauldron, and venturing deep below Gringotts Bank for high-speed thrills on a multi-sensory 3D ride.

Universal Islands of Adventure

For daring visitors, Islands of Adventure is designed to be an immersive experience, allowing you to explore different islands based on popular films and TV. shows through hair-raising rides and captivating motion simulators.

The park is split into mythical lands, each packed with magical creatures, daring rides and your favourite heroes. Throughout the thematic lands, you'll find classic rides like The Incredible Hulk Coaster, The Cat In The Hat and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man as well as brand-new rides like the epic Jurassic World VelociCoaster.

Potter fans should Venture over to Hogsmeade, an incredibly detailed land where you can explore Hogwarts Castle, shop for wizarding supplies and face Dementors, Death Eaters and the Dark Lord himself during an ominous spectacle of light and music over the castle on select nights.

Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure - photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Ride lovers should check out Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, where you can take an exhilarating coaster journey deep into the wilds of the Forbidden Forest.

The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction is a must-see for fans who dream of exploring the familiar passageways and corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Kids are also well catered for in Islands of Adventure with the whimsical Seuss Landing zone, which includes colourful, family-friendly rides, character meet-and-greet, and the Green Eggs and Ham Cafe.

Family fun can also be found at the Jurassic Park Discovery Center and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls in Toon Lagoon.

Volcano Bay

Universal's water park offering is the perfect place to escape the scorching Florida* heat with themed slides and rides, a winding river, a wave pool and a laid-back atmosphere.

The first thing you'll notice when you arrive at Volcano Bay is the impressive centrepiece of the park, the towering Krakatau volcano.

This giant 200-ft-tall structure is impossible to miss and is the park's main hub. It has several of the park's most thrilling attractions, including the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and the Ko'okiri Body Plunge, which sends you plummeting down a steep slide at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

As you walk through the park, you'll notice that the entire area is designed to resemble a lush tropical paradise, complete with sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal-clear water.

Shooting down the 125-ft Ko'okiri Body Plunge
Shooting down the 125-ft Ko'okiri Body Plunge - photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Volcano Bay was designed to be as convenient and easy to navigate as possible. When you enter the park, you're given an innovative TapuTapu wristband.

This wearable device allows you to reserve your spot in line for the park's most popular attractions, and you can also use it to make cashless purchases throughout the park.

Family-friendly facilities can also be found throughout the park, with multiple restrooms, rentable cabanas, private roll-in showers, life jackets, snack stalls and ample seating.

CityWalk Orlando

Shops, bars, dining and shows can all be found in CityWalk, a 30-acre entertainment complex in the heart of Universal Orlando Resort.

For an adult-only trip to Orlando*, this is the place to come for after-hours dinner, drinks and dancing with a range of bars and venues to shake your stuff and sip cocktails.

Love performing for a crowd? Belt out tunes on stage while accompanied by a live band and backing singers at the Rising Star karaoke bar.

Sports fans should head to NBC Sports Grill & Brew and watch their favourite teams on nearly 100 high-definition screens while sampling ales and feasting on hot wings, loaded nachos, burgers and ribs.

Hard Rock Live Orlando is the place for gigantic cocktails, comedy gigs and electric live performances from famous bands and up-and-coming musical acts. Dress to impress and get ready to rock out!

Food-wise, there are plenty of options for the whole family. Whether you're after gourmet eats, Italian cuisine, burger and fries, pizza, ice cream or doughnuts, there's a delicious dish for you at CityWalk.

Where to stay

Universal Orlando Resort features eight official on-site hotels, all near the theme parks.

Various accommodation options are available for every holiday style and budget, from Universal's dreamy Cabana Bay Beach Resort* to the affordable Universal's Endless Summer Resort (Dockside Inn* and Surfside Inn*).

Inside the two-bedroom suite at Universal's Endless Summer Resort
Inside the two-bedroom suite at Universal's Endless Summer Resort - photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Universal's Aventura Hotel* is one of the most stylish and convenient choices for park access. This contemporary hotel offers excellent views of all three of Universal's theme parks and has a dedicated walking path that takes you straight into Volcano Bay.

You can also access exclusive theme park benefits by staying at any of the official Universal hotels, including early admission and free shuttle buses and water taxis.

Top tips for visiting Universal's Islands of Adventure

  • Purchase tickets in advance: this can save you time and money and guarantee your entry into the park
  • Arrive early: the park tends to be less crowded in the morning, allowing you to experience the attractions with shorter wait times
  • Utilise the Universal Express Passes: skip the regular queues at most of your favourite rides and attractions
  • Take advantage of single-rider queues: if you're willing to ride alone or separate from your group, single-rider queues can drastically reduce your wait times and get you on thrilling coasters quicker
  • Use Universal's child swap program: each ride and attraction has a family room where one adult can wait with younger kids so that every adult can enjoy the fun
  • Bring a water bottle: save on buying bottled water by bringing a reusable bottle to the parks and filling it up at multiple water fountains.

Weather in Orlando

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

The above guide shows the weather in Orlando. Find out more in our complete guides to the weather in Florida and the wider USA.

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More about Universal Studios

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Portia Jones

Portia Jones

Portia Jones is a freelance travel journalist and host of "The Travel Goals Podcast". Based in Wales, Portia specialises in adventure travel, destination guides and solo travel guides. She writes for a wide range of publications including the Mirror, the Western Mail, loveEXPLORING, Women & Home and Bradt Guides.

Posted on Thursday 29th June 2023 in: City Family North America TUI

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