Some of these options are free, and some cost extra, but many of our readers have found these tips useful to them on their visits to the resort. Take a look, and follow the tips you think will be right for you and your family.
Skip the Lines with Universal Express
Almost all theme parks offer perks to guests who stay in their on-site hotels, but Universal Orlando's top perk might be the world's best. Guests who stay at Universal Orlando's "deluxe"-level hotels — the Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific — get free, unlimited "Universal Express" access in the parks for the duration of their stay.
That means front-of-the-line access to nearly all of the rides and shows at Universal Studios Florida and the Islands of Adventure theme parks. With a Universal Express pass, you no longer need worry about getting up early to be at the front gate before the park opens. You can forget about strategies and which ride to visit when. Just come and go as you please, and you'll rarely wait more than a few minutes to ride anything, even on the busiest days of the year.
Even if you don't stay at one of these three on-site hotels, you can buy a Universal Express pass to help you skip the lines in the parks. The unlimited version runs from $54.99 a day to $149.99 a day (on top of your regular admission ticket), while a one-skip-per-ride version runs from $39.99 to $119.99 per day. The price of these passes rises as the parks get busier — which are the days when they become most useful. You'll have to decide if the trade-off of price-versus-convenience works for you.
But consider this: For a family of four, a night at one of the "top three" hotels during busy periods sometimes costs less than the cost of buying four unlimited Universal Express passes for that day. Plus, keep in mind that one night at these hotels can get you up to two days of unlimited Universal Express use, too — it's valid the day you check through the day you check out.
Whatever you choose, though, please don't call a Universal Express pass a "Fastpass." That's Disney's trademarked term for its line-reservation service. You'll get plenty of smiles instead of forced grins from people at Universal if you don't use Disney's terms when visiting.
Staying off-site, or at a "value"-priced on-site hotel? There's still another way to skip the lines at Universal Orlando. Unlike at Disney, where single rider lines are rare, almost all of Universal Orlando's top attractions offer this feature. You will find single rider queues at the following locations:
Universal Studios Florida
Islands of Adventure
In addition, other popular rides such as Jurassic Park and Minion Mayhem have been known to open a single rider line during especially busy periods.
If you choose to use this option, please do not abuse it. "Single rider" means just that. If you are not visiting the parks by yourself, you will not be able to ride with your family members or friends if you choose to go through the single rider queue. Instead, you will be separated and assigned to any available extra, empty seat at the end of a row, in order to keep ride vehicles fully filled without slowing the flow of the line.
Get Early Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Visitors who stay at any of Universal's on-site hotels, or book a vacation package through Universal Orlando at a participating off-site hotel, can get one hour of extra access to one of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, before the parks open to guests in the morning.
If you are staying at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort or the new Sapphire Falls — which do not offer the free Universal Express Unlimited benefit — you will want to make sure to make use of your free extra hour in the Wizarding World each morning of your stay.
Get the Park-to-Park Ticket to Ride the Hogwarts Express
Universal Orlando's two Wizarding World lands — Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida — are connected by the Hogwarts Express, a replica of the steam train from the Harry Potter films that shuttles guests between the two lands.
When you're aboard the Hogwarts Express, the "windows" in the train compartment will show your journey as if you were riding through the English and Scottish countrysides, with a different journey in each direction. Since the ride runs between two parks, you will have to have a "Park to Park" ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express. (Again, it's not a "park hopper" — that's Disney's term.) If you've bought a single-park ticket and decide you want to ride the Hogwarts Express, you can upgrade to Park-to-Park at ticket windows next to Hogwarts Express station in each park.
Wait Like a Wizard
As a Muggle, you can't apparate to wherever you want to be in the parks. But you can show some wizarding skill by steering clear of a couple of the most avoidable wait times in parks' Harry Potter lands.
Fancy a Butterbeer, the butterscotch-flavored soda that's become one of the most popular treats at Universal? Don't wait in the long line for the Butterbeer cart in Hogsmeade. Just slip into the Hog's Head Pub or Three Broomsticks next door, and order your Butterbeers inside instead. Or get your Butterbeer at one of the several other locations that sell it in Diagon Alley.
In Ollivander's wand shop, Universal offers a short show when an audience member is selected to take part in the "wand chooses the wizard" moment from the first Harry Potter film. The wait for this show is much shorter in the Diagon Alley version of Ollivander's, which has multiple rooms, than it is in Hogsmeade, where there's only one room for the show.
Go Behind the Scenes
Universal Orlando offers plenty of other opportunities to "step into the action" in the parks. At Men in Black: Alien Attack, ask a team member at the ride's entrance for an "Immigration Tour." (Sometimes, you need to ask the team member at the unload platform, instead.) If it's not too busy in the park and they can spare a team member for a few moments, he or she will take you on a short walking tour through the queue scenes depicting the "Men in Black" headquarters. It's a great way to get up close, into scenes that most visitors only see from a distance, in the queue for the ride.
You also can ask for a control room tour at the Twister attraction, as well. Both are free, but, again, are not always available.
Order off the Menu
If you have a food allergy or other dietary restriction, simply ask at any Universal Orlando dining location, and a team member will assist you. You will find more flexibility at the park's table-service restaurants than at small walk-up windows (obviously, due to larger menus and on-site chefs), but all food service team members are trained to assist with dietary restrictions.
Even if you don't have a dietary restriction and simply are looking for something unique to celebrate a special occasion, Universal's chefs sometimes can create a menu for you. Just call in advance to +1-407-224-FOOD. Again, it's helpful to make your request at a time of year when the park's aren't so busy. (It's difficult for the chefs to break from their routine during the rush of pushing out meals during Christmas week, for example.) But here's what one Theme Park Insider reader was able to do for his anniversary at Mythos, with Universal's help.
Pay for Your Meals in Advance
If you're looking for simplicity instead, consider the Universal Dining Plan. The dining plan allows you to pay for meals and snacks in advance of your visit at a flat rate, which could save you money over ordering a la carte. Savings aren't guaranteed though, so it's probably best consider the potential value here in convenience rather than lower food costs. Check out the details on Universal's website.
Store Your Stuff
Don't expect to be able to carry your big backpack on to every attraction at Universal Orlando, the way you almost always can at Disney. Several Universal attractions will make you place your backpacks and purses in a locker before boarding. And on the park's big roller coasters, you will have to empty your pockets and put all that in a locker, as well. (Thinking of cheating? Don't. Universal actually has installed metal detectors at the entrance to those rides.)
The good news is that regular-sized lockers are provided free of charge at locations where people cannot carry on bags. You will need to pay to use larger lockers for over-sized items or if you keep your item in the locker beyond the free time limit. The length of that free time limit varies based on the wait time for the ride, so you shouldn't go over the limit — and have to pay — if you put your items away upon arriving at the line, then take them out immediately after exiting.
Get Paid While You Play
Between the Horror Make-Up Show Theater and the Woody Woodpecker KidZone in Universal Studios Florida, you'll find the Garden of Allah Villas — home to the NBC Media Center. Universal Orlando's parent company also owns the NBC television network, and the NBC Media Center is where the network often tests new shows for focus groups. Sometimes, Universal team members will recruit park guests to participate in testing and even pay them for their time. So if you have a few moments — and maybe looking to pick up a few bucks — it can't hurt to stop by.
Now we'll ask long-time Universal visitors... what are some of your favorite tips for visiting the Universal Orlando Resort? Tell us in the comments.Tweet
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