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Seven things you need to know when planning your Universal Orlando trip this fall

by Attractions Magazine Staff

So, you’re planning a trip to Universal Orlando Resort this fall, and you’re looking for tips to help you before you go.  Universal Orlando is an expansive, thrilling park with activities for anyone in your family. With world class attractions, immersive lands and experiences, you are bound to have the trip of a lifetime. With two different theme parks, a water park, and an incredible shopping megacomplex, there is so much to do and see. That’s why we’ve come up with seven things you need to know before you plan your trip to Universal Orlando this Fall.

universal orlando

Sponsored and written by Michael Belmont of The Park Prodigy

1. Know What Parks There Are

Universal Orlando Resort is huge and one of the largest resorts in all of Florida. Visitors come from all over the world to participate in Universal’s unbelievable entertainment options. Universal Orlando Resort is made up of two theme parks, a water park, CityWalk, and seven different resorts, making it over 1,000 acres of land combined. That is huge!

Some visitors spread their time among all of these parks and spaces, but some only like to visit for a day or two. Therefore, it is important to know the difference between the parks and which you’d like to visit.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida is the original theme park at Universal Orlando Resort and has plenty of modern, action-packed rides for the whole family. Dive into Springfield, and ride The Simpson’s Ride, or have a bite to eat at Moe’s Tavern. Enter Diagon Alley and drink Butterbeer while visiting Ollivander’s Wand Shop or even take a ride down to the vaults of Gringotts’s Bank and escape with Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can even escape the curse of the mummy in the crowd favorite, Revenge of the Mummy coaster.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty for kids to do. Such as meet SpongeBob, Shrek, or Minions while walking down the streets of Universal Studios. There’s also a kid’s play zone, and plenty of attractions where little ones can have a great time.

 Universal’s Islands of Adventure

If you are an adrenaline seeker, Islands of Adventure was made for you. This park is jam packed with rides that will thrill and entertain you. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade is located in this park and contains two of the best Harry Potter themed rides in existence! If you’ve dreamed of walking the halls of Hogwarts Castle, look no further. You can experience the Forbidden Journey, which takes place right inside of the iconic castle.  You can also ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which is arguable the best coaster in the entire world.

Not a Harry Potter fan? Don’t worry, Islands of Adventure is also home to Jurassic Park with attractions that will blow your mind. VelociCoaster just debuted this year, and is one of the wildest coasters ever created.

You can also have a more child-like experience with Seuss Landing, where you can meet the Grinch, The Cat in the Hat, and many more. You can also head over to Marvel Super Hero Island and catch up with Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk in their featured rides or have a meet and greet with Captain American or Wolverine.

Universal’s Volcano Bay

Universal’s Volcano Bay is a water park unlike any other. If you’re a thrill seeker or relaxation connoisseur, Volcano Bay has something for you. You can drop from a volcano slide, swim and splash at Waturi Beach, or rent a private cabana and have exclusive concierge services throughout the day.

No matter what you choose, you will feel like you’re in a tropical paradise with warm waters and plenty of Florida sun.

Universal CityWalk Orlando

Right in the middle of Universal Orlando Resort is CityWalk, an outdoor complex full of dining, entertainment and plenty of shopping. There are so many things to do in CityWalk, like grab a famous Voodoo Doughnut, play mini golf, visit Bubba Gump Shrimp Company or even get a tattoo. If you’re into the nightlife scene, there are clubs, live entertainment, and more woven throughout the complex. If you’re lucky enough to visit for a few days, you should definitely spend at least one of them wandering around and exploring Universal Orlando’s CityWalk.

2. Know What Tickets You Want

Lucky for the guest, Universal offers a variety of ticket options to satisfy any vacationers. If you’re only looking for one day, or planning on staying a week, Universal Orlando has a ticket for you.

When pricing out options, you’re going to want to compare the same type of ticket to gauge accurate savings. What are the different ticket types from Universal Orlando?

  • One Park, One Day Tickets – start at $109 -You can visit Universal Orlando and visit either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure for one day.
  • Park To Park, One Day Tickets – start at $164 – This ticket is for guests who are traveling for one day, but would like to go to both Universal Orlando Parks.
  • Multiple Day, One Park Per Day Tickets – start at $212 – For those who are going for multiple days but would like to only go to one theme park per day. 
  • Multiple Day, Park To Park – start at $272 – This option is one of the best ways to save money at Universal Orlando, seeing as that it is the best value option out of the rest.

With all of these options, there are plenty of ways to get the maximum savings for your time spent in the park. It is important to note that the more days you go, the cheaper the ticket price per day!

3. Know Where to Stay

When visiting Universal Orlando Resort, one of the hardest decisions is where to stay. Luckily, the Universal Orlando campus has plenty of resorts within walking distance of the theme parks. Staying at a Universal Orlando Resort also comes with plenty of perks, which can make your trip exponentially better.

Hard Rock Hotel - Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Resort Perks

  • Early Admission 
  • Resort Transportation
  • Resort-Wide Charging Privilege
  • Merchandise Delivery

There are even extra perks for staying at a Universal Premier Resort, which not only save you time, but are an incredible value.

  • Universal Express Unlimited – All guests who stay at a premiere Universal Orlando hotel get Universal Express Unlimited added to their tickets. It’s a value of $129 per person, per day.
  • Priority seating at select restaurants and first-available seating at others.

There are four different tiers of Universal Orlando resorts which can fit any budget or family need.

Four tiers of Universal Orlando Resorts:

  • Premier – All standard rooms are in the $300 – $400 range per night. These resorts include Loews Portofino Bay, Loews Royal Pacific and the Hard Rock Hotel. These three resorts scream luxury, with world class dining, service, and theming. While they may be pricey, don’t forget that everyone in your party gets the Express Unlimited Pass added to their ticket!
  • Preferred – Standard rooms at preferred level are about $200 a night. The only resort at this level is the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.
  • Prime Value – Standard rooms at the Prime Value level are $132 a night. Aventura Hotel and Cabana Bay Beach Resort are the two prime value resorts. Guests tend to love these two resorts for their value price, but also their incredible theming. Both are perfect for families that plan on spending equal time in the resort and the theme parks.
  • Value – Standard rooms at value resorts start at $88 a night. That is a steal for staying on Universal Orlando Resort property! With that low price tag, you still get all of Universal Resort base perks. Both value resorts are actually sister resorts at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort campus. There you can choose between either beach value resort – Dockside Inn and Suites or Surfside Inn and Suites. Both offer fun theming and cheap dining options for those looking to save some cash.

No matter which tier you choose, there is a Universal Orlando Hotel for you. Each hotel has a unique theme and can offer a totally different experience. If you’re looking to be a rockstar and party among endless rock n’ roll memorabilia, then the Hard Rock Hotel was made for you. If you’re looking for plenty of pool and relaxation time, Cabana Bay Beach resort is going to be your option. With plenty of pools and a cool vintage Florida beach theme, you’ll feel like you’re sitting in the sand with a cool tropical breeze blowing through your hair.

4. Know How to Maximize Your Time

If you are only planning on staying at Universal Orlando Resort for a day, or for a few days, you might be concerned about getting everything in that you want to do. Luckily, there are ways to get more time in the parks, while also saving money and getting free planning tools.

At TheParkProdigy.com, you can purchase your Universal Orlando Resort tickets and get a ton of perks! Most importantly, included with every single Park Prodigy Universal Orlando ticket is the option for Early Park Admission.  As mentioned above, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has so many attractions, shops, and activities for families visiting Universal.

Unfortunately, because it has become so popular, wait times for world class attractions like Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure can be long. This can cut into your Universal fun time! At The Park Prodigy, your ticket allows you to enter either Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure or Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida one hour before park open.

That can be up to three hours of park time saved due to no or low waits with early park admission.

We highly recommend this perk, especially with how popular the parks have been lately. Rides like Hagrid’s or Escape from Gringotts can be hours long, but with Early Park Admission, you’ll breeze straight through the queue and right on to the rides.

5. Know Where to Eat

There are more than 100 different dining locations within Universal Orlando Resort, making dining a whole planning process in itself. Just CityWalk alone has 30 different restaurant options, from casual quick service to fancy upscale sit-down dining. No matter where you choose to eat, whether inside the theme parks with incredibly immersive restaurants, or a quick bite at Starbucks, Universal has it all.

Below are some of our favorite options in each!

CityWalk Restaurants

CityWalk is packed with exciting shopping and dining experiences and shouldn’t be overlooked when planning where to eat during your Universal Orlando stay.

Our two favorite places to eat in CityWalk are Hard Rock Café and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Both options are sit-down restaurants will full menus, packed with deliciously themed meals for an incredible dining experience.

Hard Rock Café is rock n’ roll themed and is known for the exclusive memorabilia obtained from some of the world’s most famous rock stars. Americana cuisine is offered at the Hard Rock Café, with plenty of classic and rockin’ cocktails to join them. The food pricing is moderate and open for lunch and dinner. While waiting for your food, take a look around, you might even be able to find the iconic white piano with autographed keys from Billy Joel, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder.

Margaritaville Orlando takes an opposite turn and offers a carefree summer paradise vibe in their restaurant. It is a casual table service restaurant with plenty of bars, live entertainment, and patio dining. The food is Floribbean, fusion between Caribbean and Florida cuisine at a midrange price. The bar list is expansive and full of deliciously crafted margaritas to make you feel like you’re sipping in paradise.

Universal Studios Florida Restaurants

Whether you want to dine like a wizard in Diagon Alley or catch a laugh in Simpson’s Land, there is a place for you to dine in Universal Studios.

Our top two favorite places to eat are The Leaky Cauldron in the Diagon Alley and Today Café.

The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley is a must do for any Harry Potter fan. If you want to dine right where Hagrid first brought Harry after he learned he was a wizard, this is a must do. You can grab either breakfast, lunch, or dinner at this hearty restaurant and try items like blood sausage, bangers and mash, or cottage pie. Pricing is mid-range and has a wide variety for each time of the day.

The Today Café is a wonderful place to grab a quick bite and not break the bank when dining inside of the theme park. There are plenty of sandwiches, pastries, salads, and coffee, all offered under $20! It’s a modern and sleek option that is bound to get you in and out of the door quickly with a delicious meal.

Islands of Adventure Restaurants

You may be on the menu when riding Velocicoaster in Islands of Adventure, but don’t worry, after you’re done working up an appetite, there are plenty of places to eat once you’re done.

Our two favorites are: Green Eggs and Ham Cafe and Three Broomsticks.

Who would have thought that you could actually eat green eggs and ham! There is not one person who has read Dr. Seuss books that hasn’t wanted to try green eggs and ham. That’s why the Green Eggs and Ham Cafe is a must do at least once! This is a quick service restaurant with many potato barrel options, like Buffalo Chicken Tots, Pizza Tots, and of course … Green Eggs and Ham Tots.

Three Broomstick restaurant is placed right in Hogsmeade. It’s a fictional restaurant inside of the Harry Potter books and movies, and the Universal Orlando version is perfect, down to every last detail. There are family dining options and single plated options such as fish and chips, ribs, salad, beef pasties, and more! Pricing is cheap to midrange, depending on what you get. Whatever you choose, don’t forget a glass of Butterbeer or Pumpkin Juice to wash it all down!

Volcano Bay Restaurants

Whether you’re relaxing in a wave pool or zooming through the slides of Volcano Bay, you’re bound to get hungry with plenty of hours in the sun.

Our two favorites are: The Feasting Frog and Whakawaiwai Eats.

The Feasting Frog is a quick service dining option with chicken tacos, tuna poke bowls, and yummy nachos. You can find The Feasting Frog at the frog-shaped hut. Expect to be tempted with local brews and interesting cocktails!

Although the name of Whakawaiwai Eats quick service restaurant would make it seem island themed, the eats offered here are more of an American fare. They offer pizza, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and more. There are some Hawaiian varieties of these options, but Whakawaiwai made our list because the wait is typically low, and the prices aren’t that bad. That gives you more time splashing around and more money in your wallet.

Exploring Universal's Volcano Bay Water Theme Park

6. Know About Your Add-On Options

If you choose to not stay at a Universal Orlando Premier Resort, you still may choose to purchase some extra add-on options like Unlimited Express Pass to maximize your stay.

 Let’s talk about all of the extras you can purchase when buying your Universal Orlando vacation package.

Universal Express Pass

If you’re only planning on visiting Universal Orlando Resort once in your lifetime, this option should absolutely be considered for you.

Universal Express Unlimited Pass

Guests can skip the regular lines with a Universal Express Unlimited Pass at many of their favorite rides and attractions at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme parks, allowing them unlimited ride access at participating rides and attractions each day that their pass is valid.

This is available for purchase as a 2-Park or 1-Park enhancement. Prices vary by travel dates.

Universal Express Pass

With a Universal Express Pass, guests can skip the regular lines at many of their favorite rides and attractions at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The Universal Express Pass is valid for one time per ride only at participating rides and attractions each day their pass is valid.

VIP Experience

This experience is properly named because the VIP Experience is the ultimate way for you to experience Universal Orlando. During the VIP Experience, you get priority front of the line access to rides and attractions. You also are given behind the scenes tours, an exclusive lanyard, access to the American Express Lounge, a CityWalk party pass and more!

You can also book a Private VIP Experience, where you get all of these same perks, but it is just for your party alone. Talk about exclusive experience for your family! You also get a My Universal Photo Package to remember this experience forever!

My Universal Photos

Ever wondered what you look like while riding one of the fastest coasters in the world? With the My Universal Photos pass option, you can get pictures of you and your family riding most of the Universal Orlando rides. You can get an instant digital download, which makes it easy for sharing to all of your friends and family.

7. Know About Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Orlando Resort is celebrating its 30th year of Halloween Horror Nights in 2021, and has brought the most terrifying haunted houses, spooky scare zones, and wildly frightening live entertainment.  This is a separate ticketed event which began haunting Universal Studios Florida on Sept. 3. While this is not recommended for children under the age of 13, if you are a horror fan, it would be a scary shame if you chose to skip this incredible event. There are no costumes allowed while inside, but Universal Orlando has brought the theming onto Universal Studios streets and inside their 10 different themed haunted houses.

This year’s Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses:

  • The Haunting of Hill House 
  • Beetlejuice
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Universal’s Monsters – The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
  • Halloween Horror Nights Icons Captured
  • Welcome to SCarey – Horror in the Heartland
  • Case Files Unearthed
  • The Wicked Growth – Realm of the Pumpkin
  • Puppet Theater – Captive Audience
  • Revenge of the Tooth Fairy

As you can see, this list has a house for any horror fan, and is guaranteed to scare your pants right off. You can also expect plenty of horrifyingly delicious food, themed to scare and delight those with a strong stomach.

Halloween Horror Nights is arguably one of the best ticketed events in all of Orlando, and one of the most affordable with tickets starting at $70.

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