The theme parks in Florida are an amazing experience if you’re armed with some handy tips for your visit. You can say I’m a bit of a Florida veteran having been 7 times. So here’s a guide to how to navigate Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures like a pro.
Purchase your tickets before you fly
You already know that you’re going to Florida and chances are you’ve picked the parks you want to visit (if you must know my top 3 are both the Universal Parks and Busch Gardens). You already know that you’re going, so why not buy your park tickets ahead and save yourself a little bit of money.
There are few websites who legitimately sell park tickets, the best ones for Universal are listed below. Do check them all out for your dates as they occasionally have different deals on season depending.
Also, check out the Go Orlando Card here which gives you free access to some attractions.
If you’re looking to save have a look at the Orlando Groupon here as there are also often great deals – we saved 48% on our Busch Gardens tickets and frequently purchase restaurant credits before heading to Vegas. A little note though, make sure you pay through PayPal for any purchases on the USA Groupon site as it won’t allow card payments from a non-US registered card.
Similarly, when looking for tickets DO NOT buy part used tickets. This is a huge no no as you run a massive risk of these tickets being void. Many people come home from the parks with unused tickets and sell them on. Don’t buy these as you have to use fingerprint ID to get into the park and of course, the person who’s tickets they were will be assigned to that ticket often causing the ticket to become null and void and a waste of your money. Head to the sites above to book verified Universal tickets.
Plan your route before you go
Download a map of the Park and between your party make sure that you circle all the main rides you want to go on. Depending upon time of year you can be standing in queues for several hours. We usually visit out of peak times, however visited last Easter and this was a huge mistake as the parks were full due to the American holidays.
Once you’ve decided which rides you must go on, see if they’re all grouped together or if they’re spread out. If you head to the part of the park where the majority of the rides your party wants to go on are you’re going to spend less time wasted wandering around and more time enjoying the thrills.
Buy a day dining pass
You’re going to be there all day and by the time you purchase a drink, a sandwich and a packet of crisps you’re already $35 down. Their all-day dining passes begin at $24.99 and this allows you to eat in specific restaurants and grab drinks from side carts hourly. This is a huge saving if you have hungry kids or if you too are planning to eat and drink in the parks.
Side note: If you purchase one of the refillable drinks for $14.99 you can refill these as many times as you wish at the hundreds of drink stops located across both of the parks. If you take your cup back again on another visit you pay only $8 for unlimited drinks.
Be prepared to wait for ANYTHING Harry Potter
As you can imagine, Harry Potter is more of a phenomenon in the US than it is here in the UK, with both of the Universal Parks now featuring their own Harry Potter islands, if you have a two-park pass you can travel on the Hogwarts Express between the parks.
Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are actually great (and I’m not a Potter fan) as the creators have done a stellar job of bringing the magic to life. You’ll see a plethora of grown men dressed in robes flicking their wands from Olivanders at statues. At first, it is a bit bizarre but after a little while, it becomes a pretty normal sight.
The Harry Potter parts of the park are the busiest so do take this into consideration and know that regardless the time of year you’re going to experience heavy volumes of people wanting to take in the wizarding world.
Side tip: The Leaking Cauldron is a great place to dine, especially listening to the Americans try and decipher a British menu.
Be single rider ready
If your party is old enough and you are there for just the ride, be ready to jump into the ‘single rider’ line. This means you’ll go straight on the ride on your own wherever there are single seats available. If you don’t mind making new friends for a couple of minutes, this means you’ll end up on far more rides than standing in the regular queue.
If it’s a special occasion, let them know
Birthday, Anniversary, Just Married? Let the park staff know, they’re always on the lookout to improve your experience of the park. When we visited last year it was my nephew’s 10th birthday on one of the days we went to Universal Studios. Having already known you get a ‘birthday’ badge he headed to the reception to receive his. Whilst he was there, the gentleman on the reception gave him 10 fast pass tickets as a birthday gift. He was elated and couldn’t wait to go down the shorter queue like the little VIP he thinks he is!
All the park staff that day also kept wishing him Happy Birthday as he proudly displayed his birthday badge, making it a day he’ll never forget.
Check the time boards
All around the park, there are boards with waiting times for the rides, which is really helpful if you’re trying to plan which rides are worth going on next, or how many rides you can get on before the park closes. It’s important to know that these are just a rough guide and that they’re not always true. For example, my daughter and niece went on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Rollercoaster which said there was a 20-minute wait, we headed to a show. By the time we returned the girls had been on the ride two or three times as there wasn’t a queue at all or at best they waited 5 minutes.
Look out for street performers and characters during the day
Not content with the rides, there’s always something going on somewhere in the parks, from character parades to singing and dancing performances, Universal really delivers on the entertainment. Usually, you can turn a corner and see Marilyn Monroe singing and dancing on Main Street. Down a side street watch the Blues Brothers come to life. Don’t have a cow man when you walk into Bart Simpson in Krustyland!
Stay later, get on more
It’s simple, arrive early and stay late. Park tickets don’t come cheap and how often will you return back to the Sunshine State? Make the most of your trip with a jam-packed day. It is tiring but it’s so worth it!
Have you been to Universal and have any tips? Drop them below