Since the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, we have made regular trips to visit the Universal Orlando theme parks. The parks are full of great thrill rides and Hogsmeade is one of my favorite places in the world. In honor of the parks reopening, I wanted to share some of my top tips for making the most of your visit to Universal Orlando.
These tips for visiting Universal Orlando reflect our most recent trip in January, but I encourage you to visit https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us for up-to-date information on the current policies and changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tips below assume a certain knowledge of Universal Orlando. If you haven’t planned a trip before (or recently) I strongly encourage you to visit my post on planning tips and resources first. I hope you find both posts helpful!
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#1: Purchase the Park-to-park tickets
Unlike my recommendation for visiting Disney World, I strongly encourage you to purchase the park-to-park tickets when visiting Universal Orlando. This is for two main reasons. The first is that these tickets allow you access to the Hogwarts Express train ride. Because this ride connects the two parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida), you can only take advantage of this ride if you have park-to-park tickets. It is really nice to just sit and cool off while watching a fun storyline unfold as you travel from one park to the other (there is a different storyline for each direction of the train).
The other reason is simply convenience. When visiting Universal Orlando, we typically only spend one or two days. We have found that you can ride most of the rides in that time frame; especially if you purchase the Express Passes (see #2 below) or if you don’t intend to ride all of the rides (we usually skip the water rides and kiddie rides). If you are only visiting for one or two days, you want to make the most of your time. The park-to-park tickets help you do this because it allows you to visit each park whenever it is the least busy (e.g. morning vs. afternoon of the same day). It also allows you to move more quickly between parks because you can take the Hogwarts Express and don’t have to walk all the way to the front of the park. But even if you choose to walk to the front of the park to move between parks, it will take you significantly less time to switch parks than it does when visiting Disney World.
#2: Consider buying the Express Passes
When we were deciding whether to dedicate one or two days of our most recent trip to Universal Studios, we ultimately determined that we could ride all of the rides we wanted to in a single day if we purchased the Express Passes. It turns out that on our dates, the cost to purchase the Express Pass for both parks for one day was actually $10 cheaper than purchasing a two-day two-park ticket. Depending on the date you travel, this will not always be the case. For example, we only paid $110 each for our Express Passes when we visited in February, but in April, a one-day two-park Express Pass can cost as much as $190 (for reference, the difference between a one-day and a two-day two park pass ranges from about $100-$120). Read more about the Express Passes in this article from touringplans.com.
Ultimately, this was the right decision for us on this trip. We were able to ride all of the rides we wanted too and even got to ride Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike twice. One piece of advice: If you purchase your tickets online (as most people do these days), you will have to use your smartphone to have your Express Pass scanned at each ride. I strongly recommend that you bring a portable phone charger with you into the park so that you don’t accidentally run out of battery. I have a small charger that I carry because it doesn’t take up too much room in my bag, but I also saw this one online that seemed like a good option because it has integrated cables for multiple devices.
#3: Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike ride seating
Brian and I concluded that Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike might be the best overall amusement park ride that we have ever encountered. (For reference, the Forbidden Journey ride at Islands of Adventure and the Flight of the Avatar ride at Animal Kingdom are our other top rides.) It is a rollercoaster at heart, but it isn’t too intense and should appeal to most visitors. It is also more than a rollercoaster and has several unexpected components that make it a lot of fun.
On this ride, you can ride either on the left side of the car in the ‘sidecar’ or the right side of the car on the ‘motorbike.’ Brian and I both agreed that the ‘motorbike’ seat is more fun because it gives you a better perspective and is a truly novel way to experience a roller coaster. If you are in the ‘sidecar’ the first time you ride, I strongly encourage you to ride again to try out the ‘motorbike’ side.
#4: Eat at City Walk
Although the Universal Orlando parks have some good restaurants, the best dining is in the City Walk. For lunch, we will often eat quick meals in the parks. Our favorite lunch spots in Universal Studios are the Leaky Cauldron and Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. In Islands of Adventure, we love Mythos Grill and The Three Broomsticks. However, for dinner we like to venture out to City Walk and have a more relaxed table-service meal. Our favorites include the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen (the deserts are amazing) and the The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. There are also several newer restaurants that we haven’t had the opportunity to try out but which have really good reviews.
I also strongly recommend stopping by VooDoo Doughnuts. We will often stop by on our way out of the park to get doughnuts for the next morning. They are quite tasty.
#5: Try the Butterbeer
I must acknowledge that this recommendation is somewhat biased as I am a big fan of the Harry Potter franchise. However, I recommend that even those who aren’t huge HP fans try out the Butterbeer. It is a really fun and unique drink that you don’t want to miss out on. My preference is the regular Butterbeer (as opposed to the frozen which is also lovely) because of the foam topping. It is truly the best part of the drink and is somewhat addictive.
These are my top tips for visiting Universal Orlando. What are your tips for visiting? Have you tried the butterbeer?
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