Earlier this week I wrote a post about tips and tools for planning a trip to Walt Disney World. In my mind, the most logical follow-up to that post would be one on planning tips, tools, and resources for visiting the nearby Universal Orlando Resort. The lists are generally similar but vary slightly as their are more tools and resources available for Disney planning than for Universal.
While some people- especially those with young children- will plan a trip to Orlando that is exclusively a trip to Walt Disney World, teens and adults will likely also enjoy spending time at Universal. For me, the biggest draw at Universal is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but there are several other iconic attractions in the studios.
So, if you are planning a trip to Orlando that is exclusively to visit Universal- or if you plan to include some time at Universal while visiting Disney, this article outlines the top 4 Universal Orlando planning tips, tools, and resources.
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A visit to Universal Orlando (UO) is generally shorter than one to Walt Disney World. For one, there are only two theme parks and one water park at UO compared to the four theme parks and two water parks at Disney World. But more than that UO is more focused on thrill rides than providing the immersive environment that is so characteristic of Disney (the Wizarding World of Harry Potter being the exception).
Because of this, beginning to plan your UO trip months in advance is not essential like it is for a trip to Disney World. There is no system compatible to Disney’s FastPass+ program and most dining reservations can be made a few weeks prior to the start of your trip (or not at all). Still, you want to make the most of your time and money. A bit of preparation beforehand using the tips, tools, and resources below can help you do that.
#1: Universal Orlando Crowd Calendars
Just like for Disney world, there are several websites that offer travel calendars to help you choose the right time to plan your trip. This is the most important planning resource because the timing of your trip can truly determine the quality of your vacation. Once I naively made the mistake of visiting UO between Christmas and New Years Eve. I was in the area for a conference so the date wasn’t flexible, but the crowds were so overwhelming that it was difficult to move without bumping into someone. We waited over two hours just to be permitted into the Hogsmeade area and then waited another 1.5 hours to ride the Forbidden Journey. We were miserable and weren’t really able to enjoy our visit.
Crowds affect not only ride wait times, but also your general stress level and feelings of claustrophobia. If you have flexibility in scheduling your vacation, I strongly encourage you to utilize a crowd calendar. My favorite for UO is at undercovertourist.com because it is easy to read and navigate. Orlandoinformer.com also has a good crowd calendar and clearly posts the opening and closing times for each park. If you choose to purchase a subscription to touringplans.com (which I highly recommend and discuss below), their crowd calendar is invaluable.
You will also want to consider the weather when you schedule your trip. The temperatures in Florida during the summer regularly reach the high 90s. Spending hours standing in the hot sun (there is remarkably very little shade in the parks) while bumping into thousands of other sweaty people can really detract from the quality of your trip. I recommend visiting in the winter months – particularly January and February.
#3: Touring Plans (Website and App)
Touringplans.com has completely changed the way that I think about and plan our trips to both Disney and Universal Parks. The website offers valuable UO planning information for free, but in order to access their crowd calendar and individual touring plans you have to pay a subscription fee ($7.95 for one-year access for Universal). Touringplans.com isn’t perfect, but we feel that the improved quality of our vacations is well worth the nominal subscription fee. Read my detailed review of touringplans.com here.
#4: Universal Orlando Guide Book
There are a few Universal Orlando guide books available. I recommend the Unofficial Guides book that is authored by the same people who run the touringplans.com website I describe above. If you are visiting both Universal Orlando and Disney World, than I recommend purchasing just the Unofficial Guides Disney World Guide as it includes a sizeable section on UO as well. However, if you are only visiting UO, there is a separate Unofficial Guides book that focuses on UO and is slightly less expensive.
The Unofficial Guides book is entertaining to read and easy enough to navigate if you are simply looking for specific information. I especially appreciate their honest and insightful hotel reviews, dining recommendations, and ride descriptions. The Unofficial Guides blog also posts regular updates and planning tips to supplement your guide book. Look here for up-to-date information on the new Hagrid’s Motorbike ride.
*A note on Universal Orlando Discount Ticket Sites:
There are a few sites that offer discounted tickets for UO tickets. However, I cannot recommend them as I have never used them. Furthermore, when investigating them for past trips, I wasn’t able to find significant savings on any of the generally recommended sites.
I hope the resources above will help you get started and reduce some of the stress and expense of your vacation.
What other planning tips, tools, and resources do you use when planning your Universal Orlando vacations? Please share in the comments!