Universal Studios Florida Resort consists of several different components and areas. This basic guide is intended to focus on the two theme parks, as I will give you the best available information and guidelines on how to maximize your experience (and not waste any time) based on what I have seen. There is a lot that will not be covered that you can explore and experience on your own.
The major components of the overall resort are two theme parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios), three major hotels (Hard Rock, Loews Portofino Bay, and Loews Royal Pacific), and the City Walk. The City Walk consists of shopping, movie theatres, restaurants…all that sort of stuff. City Walk is accessible without paying admission to the parks. We did not spend much time in City Walk…the parks were our main focus.
You can do both parks in one day. This will require you, however, to literally bypass some stuff. City Walk would not be a part of a one-day plan. I’ll give you some advice on what is a “must-see,” and what you can skip. You will need to be focused, but it will not require you to completely abandon the fun and enjoyment of being there….what fun would that be? But you will be moving along with a definite plan of action as you go through the parks. And you will be doing more “seeing and riding,” and not as much “exploring” as you follow your plan.
Regarding tickets, I suggest a two-park-pass. One day in one park is probably too long, because there just is not enough to fill up an entire day in either one alone (in my opinion). A two-park-pass will give you access to both “Islands of Adventure” and “Universal Studios,” both of which are located next to each other. A mere five minute walk separates the two, and you are permitted to go back and forth, if you wish.
You also want to explore the “Express Pass” upgrade. Depending on the actual date of your visit, the price will vary. But the Express Pass literally allows you to bypass the larger lines and reduce your wait time for rides and attractions by a significant amount, usually for a reasonable fee. Be aware that an express line is not available for all rides and attractions. For instance, at the writing of this, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is still relatively new, and the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey Ride does not have an express line. Regardless, the Express Pass will be an important component to grasping as much excitement and fun into your day by reducing your wait times and allowing you to move through the parks more quickly. There is also some merit in exploring the idea of purchasing an Express Pass for only one of the parks, instead of both. In other words, you can have a two-park-pass for admission, but then purchase an express pass for one park only, once you get into that specific park. Look at the prices, though. While this may save you money (especially on the specific days that have higher prices), there are also days when the difference of an Express Pass for one park is only a few dollars less than an Express Pass for both parks.
There were people who were gaining “early admission” when we were there. This probably is available to guests of the Universal Hotels…I’m not sure if there is any way to buy early admission, but you may want to call and ask. An extra hour can make a difference, especially if you use it to go to the busier places and avoid lines that grow to as much as 90-120 minutes in the height of afternoon (like the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey). At the same time, however, we got in line for entry at 7:45am and were up front. The park was scheduled to open at 9am, but they let us in at 8:30am…so maybe the early admission was not as good as it seemed like it would be. As with everything, it depends on what they want to charge you. Also, you may want to explore annual passes or special pricing for Florida residents, if those situations apply to you.
I will be giving you a virtual tour of sorts, throughout this guide, by focusing on the specific areas of each of the two parks. I’ll give you info on the attractions, and opinions about the ones I experienced. Again, though, I will not discuss everything. But this will still be fairly comprehensive.
Also, a note about my process for evaluating a ride or attraction: I look at a ride based on how long I had to wait, and whether or not it was worth it. There are some rides that were so awesome, I would wait any amount of time to experience them. There are others that I would not go into even if there were no line at all. So, I give everything a number…like “30 minutes,” for example. That would mean that the ride is worthwhile if the wait is 30 minutes or less. If it’s 31-45 minutes, you still might want to wait…it’s up to you….but if it is 90 minutes, and you trust my judgment, skip it or come back later. Similarly, “NL, or No Limit” is a must-see no matter what. And “0 minutes” means don’t bother. I’ll offer some insight into my rating, but understanding how I assign these numbers is enough if you are looking for some basic and quick info.