Universal Orlando, Florida

Universal Orlando in Florida has been thrilling theme park goers for more than 25 years. Now three massive theme parks comprise Universal Orlando Resort, each with their own distinct personality.

Universal Studios is where movie magic comes to life with attractions based on blockbusters from Universal Studios.

Race through New York ride
Race through New York with Jimmy Fallon.

Mythical beasts, super heroes and villains come together to make up the exciting Islands of Adventure, where toddlers play, rollercoasters thrill and entertainment is live.

Lose yourself at the newest park, the Volcano Bay waterpark, in 30 acres of water rides, rivers and pools. Universal Orlando has diverse attractions themed to a variety of characters and movies, making it a great choice for visitors of any age who want to get the most entertainment value out of their vacation.

What’s Playing at Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios is the perfect place for film and TV lovers. It thrills fans of all things Hollywood because of its expansive size. Opened in 1990, the park now brings in over 9 million visitors a year including science fiction fanatics who love the Men in Black Alien Attack shooter game and E.T. Adventure, the nostalgic bike ride to help E.T. on his journey home.

Parents can enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor of The Simpsons Ride through Krustyland, as well as the hilarious Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. All ages can race against NBC’s Tonight Show host in a fast-paced, virtual 3D New York City, featuring major Big Apple attractions. The ride is the first at Universal Orlando to feature a virtual line, which allows guests to enjoy the rest of the park while they hold their place in line.

Younger kids can join the very funny Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a 3D ride suitable for the whole family and Shrek-4D, a multimedia encounter with Shrek and his wife Fiona. Our favorite show to relax in is Animal Actors on Location, a look behind the scenes at trained movie animals.

Thrill seekers will find many other movie-themed rides to choose from such as the still-extraordinary Terminator 3D and the intense, dark Revenge of the Mummy. Check the schedule for the nighttime movie character parade and the Cinematic Spectacular light show done on a screen of water above the park’s central lagoon.

Fans of Harry Potter (and you don’t have to have read the books to be a fan) can explore famous places in the wizarding world such as Gringotts Bank and Ollivander’s wand shop, experience the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s ride, and try butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron.

The latest Potter attraction, Diagon Alley in London, is connected by a delightful “train” ride from Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station to the original, larger Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, which is the easiest way to connect between the two parks. Note that it’s available only to guests with a Park-to-Park ticket or annual pass.

What’s Exciting at Universal Islands of Adventure

Universal’s Islands of Adventure is for both the more daring members of the family and the tiniest ones. The theme is adventure in a park that features 26 restaurants and ice cream parlors as well as attractions.

We have our favorites here, too: the classic splash ride Jurassic Park River Adventure within a large dinosaur themed zone is one. The thrilling Skull Island: Reign of Kong uses special effects and motion control in a King Kong story developed by famed movie director Peter Jackson. Kids will really appreciate Poseidon’s Fury, a multi-stage attraction based on the myth of the water god Poseidon. It uses film, sound, a live guide and physical effects like wind and water to create a great, old school thrill ride. If you’ve booked ahead, you’ll be able to get into Mythos, the Mediterranean restaurant next door that’s been voted ‘best theme park dining’ for several years running.

Younger kids, parents and grandparents will love seeing the stories of Dr. Seuss come to life at Seuss Landing, where daily specials featuring costumed characters from the books appear. Don’t miss the aerial train ride above and through this section of the park and, with older kids, the vintage Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls water ride. Older comic book fans will be thrilled by the intense Superhero Island which holds the 67mph Incredible Hulk Coaster and the 3D virtual reality Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure

Soar with Hagrids Magical Creatures and Motorbike Adventure
Soar with Hagrids Magical Creatures and Motorbike Adventure

The original Harry Potter themed attraction, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, is here too. Immerse yourself in Hogsmeade, a little village outside of Hogwarts Wizarding School where you can buy sweets at Honeydukes and ride on the family-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff. Before you dine at the famous Three Broomsticks to get your fill of pub food and butterbeer, line up for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a head spinning race by virtual broomstick through Hogwart’s school that is widely regarded as the park’s most extraordinary attraction.

Another amazing technological feat, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, opened in June 2019 and is being called ‘the world’s first story coaster.’ While withstanding seven launches that include being catapulted 65 feet high at a 70° angle through the Forbidden Forest, riders strapped into themed motorbikes or sidecars look for fantastic beasts. It’s said to be the longest roller coaster in Florida, measuring nearly a mile in length (5,053 feet).

Of course, don’t miss Diagon Alley and the latest Potter attractions at Universal Studios Florida (see above).

Getting Wet at Universal Volcano Bay

Krakatau Aquacoaster at Volcano Bay.
Krakatau Aquacoaster at Volcano Bay.

Universal opened its third theme park, Volcano Bay, a couple of years ago. It is an immersive waterpark experience full of tropical stories. The centerpiece is the 200-foot-tall Krakatau volcano, which can be seen from the neighboring Cabana Bay Beach Resort (the hotel with the closest access). 

Picture quasi-Polynesian, Pacific Islander themes at the snack stands and 18 attractions, including a multi-directional wave pool with sandy beaches, winding river, twisting multi-rider raft rides, and speeding body slides. Snack stands serve a variety of eats and beverages.

Volcano Bay also offers the pioneering Tapu Tapu, a waterproof wearable that holds your place in line, and can do tricks such as controlling the water spurting from whales in a toddler play area, or lighting up images in the volcano’s hidden caves. The whole family can use their Tapu Tapus to make purchases, access special interactive photo opportunities and selfie-spots throughout the park and, most importantly, open lockers.

Exploring the Options at CityWalk

Once you’ve had your fill of rides, relax and enjoy a meal, a drink, or a show at Universal CityWalk. This colorful commercial zone is popular with locals because of the many branded shops and a quality multiplex cinema. Hard Rock Live is the club for visiting bands and late night dancing.

Try restaurants like Emeril’s where they serve the famous New Orleans chef’s specialties. In addition, find a drink or a meal or a souvenir at Margaritaville; some candy treats, ice cream and more. Along with your theme park ticket, you can purchase a seat to see Blue Man Group.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Universal Day

Gringot's Ride at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Gringot’s Ride at Universal Studios in Orlando.

Each Universal Orlando park has thrill rides for big and little kids, shows, shops and restaurants grouped in themed areas. Those who may have visited before should keep in mind that, today, there’s just too much to comfortably see in one day.

How can you best plan a trip? Study the park maps before you enter to avoid the crowds, prioritize your interests, and you won’t wear out yourselves and the kids too quickly. During summer and holiday weekends, families with limited time may want to explore the Express Pass options (hefty additional fee) which enable you to bypass what can be very long wait times.

However, our best advice is not to rush — spend a few days at an on-site hotel and use the early morning free hours (only open to hotel guests) to catch the hottest rides, have some lunch, and go back and enjoy the great pools, Citywalk shops and Galaxy bowling alley. More attractions are starting to offer a Virtual Line Return Time that can be programmed through the official Universal Orlando app to “hold” your place in line, at no additional charge.

As for hotels, Universal Orlando now has more than 6,200 rooms across six themed and fun, on-site hotels. As noted, staying at an on-site hotel gives guests early morning privileges at the parks and, at the higher priced hotels, a room key works like an Express Pass.

For more information about dining plans that can substantially reduce your food bills, and hotel-ticket combo packages, visit the Universal Orlando Resort website.

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This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.