Universal Orlando Tips & Tricks

Before Your Trip

  • Download the Universal Orlando App –Prior to visiting Universal Studios Orlando, download the official app. This free app has a ton of great information on park hours, parade and show times, character meet & greets, ride height requirements, dining options, bathroom locations and best of all, attraction wait times listed in real-time. This can help you save a ton of time both in navigating the parks and waiting in line. You can use the app to purchase Express Passes, dining plans, and photo packages, set a parking reminder, so you won’t forget where your car is. You can even set reminders for show start times and alerts for when ride queues hit a certain wait time. This is really handy if you don’t have an Express Pass!

  • Shop - Do some shopping before you go. This includes ponchos and Harry Potter gear. You’ll save a TON of money by shopping local or buying on Amazon. 

 

What to Pack

  • Lanyard.  To enter the park and use Express Pass (if you have it), you will have to scan your ticket.  If you have a lanyard to wear your ticket, it will be a lot easier than taking it out and putting it away every ride. 

  • Harry Potter Gear- These items are expensive in the parks. If you don’t mind getting an off-brand, it’s worth looking into ordering something before you go. 

  • Cell Phone Battery Packs. Since you’ll likely be touring for many hours at a time, taking photos, posting to Facebook, etc., there is a very good chance one charge simply won’t cut it.

  • Backpack - A backpack is a convenient way to keep all your stuff together and it’s easier to carry than the plastic shopping bags you’ll get when you buy souvenirs. HOWEVER, if you don’t need the full backpack, a fanny pack is the way to go for Universal. It fits into the lockers easier and is even permitted on a few rides where backpacks are not. 

  • Rain ponchos. You really will get soaked on the water rides at Islands of Adventure, and in Orlando it rains every day in the summer.  Ponchos in the parks cost $10+ each, and over the course of a vacation, that can really add up. We recommend taking a 10-pack of ponchos (or more) for your group. They’re small and easy to throw in a backpack. 

  • Sunscreen- It’s Florida. Thank us later.

  • Waterproof pouch or ziplock bag for rides that you get wet on for the most sensitive items, like cash or a passport.

  • Water Bottles or Filtered Water Bottles – Don’t pay for bottled water! 

  • Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad –Chilly Pads use some sort of space-age science material (or witchcraft?) to simultaneously be “cool and dry.” After getting wet and being wrung out, the towel becomes cooler than the outside air, providing cooling relief without the wet mess. When it stops cooling, re-wet the towel and wring it out. Viola, cold again. They are perfect for unbearably hot days.

  • Autograph Book or Autograph Book Substitute – Bring an autograph book with a jumbo pen for the characters to sign. A regular sized pen is difficult for some of the characters to hold.  Please note these are not available during socially distanced character greetings. 

  • USB-Powered Fan – Or any travel fan - For the very hot days 

  • Food & beverages: The parks state that you cannot carry in full meals, or any food that requires heating, so for food your day pack has to stay limited to snacks. But this is one policy that is barely enforced, and we can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen families taking out deluxe picnic lunches from their backpacks. So if you’re working on a tighter budget, consider carrying in several food options including small snacks and bagged sandwiches. Just keep in mind that since the policy does exist, there is always a small chance you may be asked to dispose of larger food items before entering the parks. For drinks, you are perfectly welcome to bring in bottled water, sports drinks, etc. Reminder: No glass containers and no alcohol may be carried in.

  • Comfortable walking shoes: It is not unusual to walk five miles or more during a typical day at the parks. This makes your family’s shoe selection very important. There are no “requirements” imposed by the parks, but since achy feet will quickly turn into cranky attitudes, some careful thought should be put into footwear.

  • Additional sun protection: hats, sunglasses, bandanas.

  • Flip flops or other shoes you don’t mind getting wet (if you don’t want to store your shoes and socks in a locker for the Islands of Adventure water rides).

 
Getting Your Tickets
  • Visit a Will Call ticket kiosk to claim your tickets. You'll be asked to enter the confirmation number and insert your credit (only to verify identity) and your tickets will be printed. From here, you can either scan them into your Universal Orlando app to use virtual tickets, or just carry the paper tickets each day. If you got express passes, make sure to put them in the waterproof pouch so they don't get damaged!

  • If you're a resort guest, *everyone* will need their resort key in the parks. This grants you access to Early Park Admission when it's offered. 

 

Lockers

  • Store your stuff. On many of the “big” rides, you can’t bring on backpacks, purses, etc (like Escape from Gringotts, Hulk, Rip Ride Rockit and Forbidden Journey). Universal offers free lockers for about the amount of time it should take you to get through the ride.  You need to store your stuff BEFORE you queue up and note that these locker areas can be extremely busy. First you need to go to a locker rental station and use your park ticket to open a locker. If you don’t have a paper ticket, please see an attendant who will issue you a locker ticket. You only have a few seconds to identify the locker and store your stuff. You may need two lockers if you have more than two day bags so two people should line up at the rental station. When you come off the ride, you need to go back to the same locker rental station to open your locker so remember what bay you used. From there you’ll scan your park ticket or locker ticket and your lock will pop open.  For rides like Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey, you will be dipped and tipped and jostled around so be sure to stow your hats, phones and other loose items. Resist the urge to bring your phone with you, it’s not worth losing it on the ride. A few rides you even have to go through a metal detector before boarding. No loose items! 

  • There are also paid lockers in some additional spots, like near Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges (where you will get totally soaked by the way!) But note that on the Barge ride, there is a storage area under a fastened down tarp to store phones, wallets and small bags so don’t pay for the lockers if you don’t need them.

  • Don’t wear sneakers on water rides. That seems obvious right? But on rides like Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges you will get soaked and you have to wear shoes. So even if you just bring a cheap pair of flip flops in your bag, switch out your shoes before the water rides. Oh, and there are “people dryers” if you really need them.

 

Younger Kids

  • Not just for big kids. Many of the rides have a 40-inch height requirement. Younger kiddos who don’t meet all of the height requirements can still have fun! First, Seuss Landing is like stepping into a dreamland, or the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Little ones can enjoy time playing here while the “big kids” head off to the Hulk or King Kong.  Plus, the “big” rides offer a child swap option, which we’ll explain next! 

  • Use Child Swap - One way to breeze through the crowds when traveling with infants and toddlers is by utilizing the “child swap” program at Universal. The “child swap” allows families traveling with little ones to wait in the queue together once while allowing both adults a turn to ride. How this works is one parent stays off the ride and waits in the designated “child swap room” with the child who is not tall enough to ride. While the rest of the family hops on the ride. When they are finished the parents swap roles and the parent who initially stayed back is given a chance to ride without having to wait in line again. Instead, they simply walk to the front of the line in the “child swap” designated area. 

  • *Pro-Tip-Another added benefit of using the “child swap” is the second parent can take up to 3 guests with them. So, several people in the family get to ride twice!

  • Pteranodon Flyers – You need to be aware of the height restrictions *before* you head towards this ride. There is SUCH a unique requirement that can lead to very disappointed kids. The minimum height is 36” inches, meaning nobody under that height can ride, and anyone under 48” must have a “supervising companion” join them. On top of that, guests taller than 56 inches must be accompanied by a guest between 36 and 56 inches (in other words, adults need to accompany a kid to go on this ride, and there’s no way for taller/older kids to ride at all) 

 

Shorten Your Wait

  • Single Rider - Guests 10 years or older, also have the option of a shorter wait by being a “single rider”. Since most people ride in groups of two or more, if there is an extra spot available the attendants will ask for a single rider and you’ll be able to skip ahead in the line. At some queues, there is even a special line reserved just for “single riders”. Be forewarned this might not be available during Social Distancing measures. 

  • Other ways to skip the line. Another way to “skip the line” is to join the no motion queue on some of the simulator rides (like Minions.) You won’t feel any motion in these seats but you can still experience all the 3D effects of the ride, without the long wait. Also be aware that Minions is definitely not a mild ride. If you have any physical limitations, especially back pain, you might want to opt for the No Motion car. 

  • Arrive Well-Before Park Opening and/or Leave Late - Another tip to make the most of your time at Universal is to take advantage of the early park entrance in the morning offered solely to guests staying on property and for annual pass-holders. But, even if you are not staying on property or have an annual pass you will want to plan on arriving prior to the park opening and be among the first people there.  The parks begin to allow guests to enter, up to a certain point, before the park officially opens. If you are one of the folks who enter early you will be able to breeze through several popular attractions before the crowds arrive.  Shoot for arrival at least 30-45 minutes ahead of park opening. This tip is especially important if you don’t have multiple days to see the parks.  That said, you’ll also find the parks much less crowded when you stay late. Both parks tend to die down around 4pm. Guests who stay later enjoy much shorter wait times.  Maybe get in early and do some touring, then take a break in City walk for an early dinner and head back into the parks! If you are staying on property you could head back to your hotel for some pool time or to grab a nap.

  • Use the Secret Entrance - If you want to feel like a VIP at least for being “in the know” enter Universal Studios by using the secret entrance near the Blue Man Group auditorium, under the Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rocket roller-coaster. This entrance isn’t really a “secret”, just not many people know about it and it’s almost always empty!

  • Express Pass allows you to skip-the-line (or at least join the shorter Express Pass queue), similar to Disney’s FastPass+ system except you don’t book them in advance.  Express Pass is used in Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure (Volcano Bay has their own system.) Express Passes can be used on many — but not all — rides. They do not give you an assigned time, you can go whenever you want and join the shorter Express Pass queue. With a standard Express Pass, you can only use it once per ride. With an Unlimited Express Pass, you can go back and use it as many times as you like.  *Pro Tip: go through the website and see what rides you think your family would want to ride. Then, download the Universal Orlando mobile app. Start to look at the average wait times at different points of the day for the rides you want to go on. If the lines are usually longer than you want to wait, then an Express Pass is the way to go.

 

Act Like A Seasoned Pro

  • Use Package Pick Up - You don’t have to lug around your souvenirs! Both Parks offer package pickup at the front gate. Just make arrangements at the register and pick up your items before heading home. If you are staying at an on-site hotel you have the added perk of being able to have your purchases sent right to your hotel room. Note that this option isn’t available on the day you are checking out, and might be modified depending on current Social Distancing measures.

  • Don’t Be Deterred by Rain - Don’t let the frequent Florida rain stop you from enjoying the parks. A rainy day can actually turn out to be the best time to visit because so many people head home or don’t come at all. While some outdoor rides may get temporarily shut-down, both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure have many indoor attractions with queues that are fully enclosed from the elements. So, put your ponchos on and some shoes that can get wet and enjoy!

 

Harry Potter Fans?

  • Take the train in between the parks - Don’t miss taking the Hogwarts Express between the parks. Not only is it a super convenient way to get around, but it is a favorite Harry Potter experience, too! *Pro Tip- make sure to take the train from BOTH parks. The experiences are totally different.  And don’t miss the visual effect when people walking through the wall to Platform 9 ¾ in Kings Cross

  • Buy a Wand - One of the coolest additions to the Wizarding World has been the interactive wands that allow ordinary muggles to do spells all around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The wands cost about $45-60 each and you can choose from character wands or wands with themes based on your birthday. Look for plaques on the ground showing how to do the spell and where to aim your wand. Helpful park wizards are also on hand to help you get the spells just right.  Not only do you get a unique souvenir, but walking around casting spells is truly a magical experience that makes you feel like a wizard. You can purchase the interactive wands at Ollivanders in either Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) or Diagon Alley (Universal Studios). Purchase your wand right away – once you start using it, you’ll want to try all the spells. If this is something you’d like to experience, we recommend heading straight to Ollivanders right when the park opens, the line gets pretty crazy later in the day. 

  • Head inside the stores in Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade- Have anyone adventurous in your party? Try Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (some are actually really gross) and the chocolate frogs. 

  • Visit Diagon Alley early (and late). Diagon Alley can feel REALLY crowded in the middle of the day. Also, some of the interactive spells don’t work as well in full sunlight (like the water feature over the bathrooms). The general ambiance feels more real in the morning and late afternoon/evening, too. 

  • *Pro Tip- You can also ask the goblin in the Money Exchange any question and he will respond. Ask him about the dragon in Gringotts next time you visit 

  • Try a Butter Beer + Secret Menu- You can’t visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without getting a Butter Beer with marshmallow topping.  Also, head to The Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head Pub and order a Pumpkin Fizz. *Pro Tip- It won’t be on the menu because it is a secret item. Don’t miss the Butter Beer Flavored Ice Cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, Fountain of Fair Fortune, and at select street vendors throughout Diagon Alley.

 

Food

  • Family Style- Louie’s Italian Restaurant - One way you can save at Universal is by ordering a whole pizza pie from Louie’s Italian Restaurant. While a single slice will run you about $7 bucks, a whole pie so roughly $30 and comes with 8 slices. *Pro Tip- Don’t forget ice water is complimentary.

  • Moe’s Tavern- Something fun to do while in the Simpson’s area is to head to Moe’s tavern to try a Duff Beer. While you are there, order the kids an alcohol-free, orange-flavored Flaming Moe. The dry ice makes it smoke and the kids will get a kick out of it! The soft pretzels across the street at the Duff stand are AMAZING, too!! Slurpee’s were a kid favorite. 

  • Cheap Shareable Treat- Lad Lard’s Pink Donut- Great photo op and enough to feed most (if not all) of the family.  Don’t take our word for it, USA Today’s ranked it in their 10 best.

  • Head to City Walk- Here you will find a wider range of options. It may not save a lot of cash but at least you get better quality food for your money and at lunch it’s usually pretty quiet! The Bread Box serves delicious sandwiches, soups, and salads. It was a healthier option and kids love the bench swings located at some of the booths. The NBC Sports Grill & Brew is also a fan favorite. Who doesn’t love a working foosball dining table? City Walk also has some fun photo opportunities and great shops. Since it is so quiet during the afternoon, you can get a bunch of fun shots. Don’t forget the giant throne outside Voodoo Donuts!

  • Toothsome Chocolate Emporium- If there’s a line at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium for dinner, you can order your tasty treats at the counter.  Make sure you try at least one of their INCREDIBLE Artisanal Milk Shakes. Salted Caramel Pretzel is wonderful, and Chocolate Peanut Butter comes in close for second. The food is okay, but it’s not anything to write home about. Really, the main draw here is desserts. 

 

Lesser-Known Attractions

  • Live Raptor Photo Opportunity- Where else can you get a photo with a live raptor?  What makes this so incredibly fun is the employees are steadfast in the delivery of their character. The kids were actually starting to question if the dino was real. 

  • Jurassic Play Area- After you ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure, you can go to the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. Here you can relax in the air-conditioned room while kids check out all the cool dinosaurs. Make sure to wander over to the eggs. If you’re there when a baby dino breaks out of its shell, your kiddo might be lucky enough to name the newborn and get an official birth certificate!

  • Character Meet & Greet with Shrek & Donkey- who wouldn’t want to spend time with this hilarious duo? Make sure to check the guide for times so that you can hang out with these totally awesome and funny characters. 

  • Hello Kitty Shop– if you have young girls (or teens) they will LOVE the adorable Hello Kitty Shop located inside Universal Studios. They have every type of Hello Kitty product imaginable PLUS an adorable bakery/ candy shop too!

  • Seuss Landing- little ones will love cooling down in the air conditioned stores in Seuss Landing. There’s even a coloring station in the store near the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!

  • Virtual Queue. Some rides have started using Virtual Queue. You can join the queue from the mobile app and you will be assigned a time to show up. Simply scan your phone on arrival and in you go! Note that you can only be in one virtual line at a time. 

 

A Few More Things

Theme park veterans know these final tips, but for first-time visitors with young kids here are a few more ideas to note: At the beginning of each day, take a photo of your children. Should someone get lost, this photo will allow you to show park employees exactly what your child looks like and what he/she is wearing that day.

It is also important to inform your children that, should they get lost, they can approach any team member (if at Universal) or cast member (if at Disney) for help. All park employees are required to wear official name tags when they are in public — and that’s the key to determining who is and who is not someone your child can ask for assistance. So, when you first arrive, show your children what the park’s official name tag looks like, and let them know to look for that if help is needed. 

 

Volcano Bay Tips

 

TapuTapu:

  • The TapuTapu wristband is your key to getting around the park.  You will receive it when you pick up your tickets or check-in at the main entrance. You can link the Tapu Tapu to your Universal App and add your credit card details to pay for items with just a swipe of the wristband.

  • Set up is quite easy, the entire process takes less than 5-minutes. You can even set dollar limits on the wristbands. These values can be assigned to each TapuTapu. Kids can be given a certain amount to spend. The payment is accessed via a short pin code that you enter during the setup process.

  • Used for pretty much every transaction within Universal Studios Volcano Bay. You use it to book and access your locker, pay for your food, and reserve your spot for rides that have long lines. This is done by scanning your TapuTapu at the entrance to the ride. From here you are given an option of 30, 90, and 100-minutes. Your TapuTapu counts down your time and lets you know when it’s your time to ride. When your Tapu Tapu says “Ride Now”, head to the line. This offers a much shorter (usually 15-20 minutes) wait time rather than standing in line for much longer. Once your “Ride Now” appears, you don’t need to rush over. Your ride doesn’t expire, so you can finish whatever ride you’re on first.

 

Food Options At Volcano Bay: 

You are allowed to bring your own pre-packaged food into Volcano Bay. Non-pre-packaged food is allowed in the case of allergies. You can also bring in plastic or refillable water bottles. You cannot bring alcohol, non-prepackaged food, or glass containers. You are also not allowed to bring a cooler to Volcano Bay. However, if you have a food allergy you can bring a small, soft-sided cooler. The payment system is convenient, just tap your TapuTapu band and wait for your food. There’s no need to carry cash with you. If the parents are looking for a drink, check out the Dancing Dragons Boat Bar. They serve a few different beers and cocktails. And it has a great view overlooking the volcano. For kids, the Koka Poroka Ice Cream Kona is a must. They offer a number of flavors, but the most colorful is the Waturi Fusion. It’s a mix of banana, blue raspberry, orange, and strawberry. This treat is as fun to look at as it is to eat.

 

Where To Put Your Stuff At Volcano Bay: There are basically two options for what to do with your stuff at Volcano Bay. Get a locker, or find a place to store it. Personally, I think the lockers at Volcano Bay are a great option. You can rent them for the day and then access them whenever you need them. You can book your locker directly on your TapuTapu simply by tapping it. If you’re juggling towels, food, water bottles, and cameras, this is definitely the way to go. For those who don’t want to get a locker, we don’t recommend taking anything valuable beyond towels and maybe a small drawstring backpack with you. If you arrive early you can likely claim a spot within the park and set up camp for the day. This method is riskier, and we don’t recommend it if you have cameras or anything expensive with you. But, if you just have some snacks, water bottles, and towels, you’ll likely be fine.

 

What To Bring To Volcano Bay: Because you’ll have your TapuTapu wristband with you, there is no need to carry a wallet or purse with you. All of your money is conveniently available with a tap of your wrist. But to help make your days as pleasant (and inexpensive) as possible, here are a few things to bring to Volcano Bay

  • Towels: You can rent towels at Volcano Bay, but there is a cost to this. If you want to save a few dollars, you can bring your own. If you are staying at one of the Universal Hotels, you are not allowed to bring the hotel towels to the Orlando waterpark.

  • Sunscreen: Lather up with sunscreen when you get there. And make sure to re-apply several times during the day. We highly recommend using reef-safe sunscreen for all of your sunscreen needs. This helps limit the number of pollutants that make it back into the oceans. You can also wear a rash guard.

  • Flip Flops : You’ll be in and out of the water almost constantly as you explore Volcano Bay. Bring a pair of flip flops that will keep your feet protected as you walk around, but can easily be slipped off when it’s time to go in the water.

  • Waterproof Phone Case: Consider packing a waterproof case for your phone. That way you can take photos and shoot video all day without worrying about destroying your expensive phone. But make sure to test your case first.

 

Plan Your Rides At Volcano Bay: The Universal Orland Resort app will help you to understand the layout of Volcano Bay. Pick your most important rides and decide if your family will be staying together or splitting up. Certain rides are more popular than others, and thus have longer lines. Use your TapuTapu to secure your spot so that your wait times are shorter. It’s not rare for popular rides, such as the Krakatau Water Coaster, to have a multi-hour wait time. Praise the virtual lines of the TapuTapu!

  • Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slide: You can’t miss this huge Volcano Bay slide near the entrance to the park. You can choose one of two slides that twist and turn their way towards the pool. The Ohyah slide drops riders out 4 feet above the pool. The Ohno is a bit more extreme with a 6-foot drop into the water. The Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slide accepts the Universal Express Pass.

  • Krakatau Aqua Coaster: Krakatau is the most popular of the rides at Volcano Bay. You board a four-person canoe for a wild ride of twists and turns through the volcano. You finally get launched through a waterfall to finish your Krakatau ride. The Krakatau Aqua Coaster accepts the Universal Express Pass.

  • Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides: This 6-person Volcano Bay raft ride is a wet and wild fun-zone. Prepare to get dizzy because Maku Puihi will spin wildly as your blasted by geysers. Finally, you’ll splash into the pool at the bottom. Maku Puihi accepts the Universal Express Pass.

  • Honu ika Moana: This is another of the Volcano Bay rides where you’ll have two slides to choose from. Ika Moana will have you rushing on a five-person raft through massive swells on the walls. The more extreme Honu slide uses a four-passenger raft and starts another level higher. Even better, you don’t have to carry your rafts up. They are carted up using a motorized system. The Honu ika Moana ride accepts the Universal Express Pass.

  • The Fearless River: Lazy rivers are awesome. And the Universal Studios Volcano Bay lazy river doesn’t disappoint. The water is quick moving with zippy rapids and includes a ride through a volcano lava tube. It’s lazy enough that even young kids can enjoy the ride. But it’s exciting enough that those looking for a little thrill won’t be bored. And it’s long enough that you aren’t just seeing the same things over and over again. 

 

Visiting Volcano Bay With Toddlers And Young Children: For those visiting Volcano Bay with toddlers and young children, rest assured that your family won’t be bored or left out. There is a beach at the base of the volcano pool. You can even bring sand toys and set up camp here for the day. Taniwha Tubes is a fun tube ride that even young children can enjoy without being overwhelmed. The Fearless River is good if tots are with a parent (they’ll need to wear a life jacket). But the Kopiko Wai Winding River more focused on small children. It’s shallower, slower-moving, and less busy. One area where those visiting Volcano Bay with young children will spend time is at Tot Tiki Reef and Runamukka Reef. These water playgrounds feature their own mini-volcanos, small slides, loads of climbing areas and more. Parents will love that there is only one way in and out, so if you lose track of your little one, they can’t get too far.

 

Have a wonderful vacation!!