An insider perspective of Rock the Universe 2023 at Universal Studios Florida
Universal Orlando’s annual Rock the Universe event boasts of being the largest Christian music festival in Florida. This year, the event occurred Jan. 27-28, 2023, with concerts featuring award-winning musical artists like Skillet, Matthew West, and Zac Williams. We asked a Christian clergy member to check out Rock the Universe 2023 and offer insight into the event.
Since Rock the Universe moved to the last weekend in January, Rock the Universe has served as a bridge between the winter holiday celebrations at Universal Orlando and the Mardi Gras festivities beginning in early February.
The separately-ticketed event allows participants to enter Universal Studios Florida at 4:00 p.m. each evening, and event lasts until 1:00 a.m. each night. Additional ticket options can be purchased that entitle guests to visit all the Universal Orlando parks during the day before the music event kicks off each evening. Express passes are also available for those wanting expedited access to the attractions at Universal Studios Florida.
This event draws many teenage faith-based groups. On the Friday morning of the event, the security hub area in CityWalk moved far slower than usual, probably due to increased attendance. In addition, since an unofficial non-sponsored Universal Orlando Wizarding World cosplay event also happens each year on this same weekend, Universal Studios Florida crowds were also higher than on a typical Friday.
Unlike during Halloween Horror Nights, Rock the Universe guests do not enter holding areas to wait until Universal Studios Florida clears the park of daytime guests as Rock the Universe participants may enter Universal Studios Florida up to two hours before the park closes to daytime guests at 6:00 p.m.
At that time, they can visit the World Expo area or Battery Park area to pick up wristbands that indicate they can remain in the park for the Christian concert event. Guests arriving close to 6:00 p.m. or later, received wristbands near the entrance turnstiles.
The event provides many reasons for fans of contemporary Christian music to attend. Our reporter previously worked in various Christian settings with teenagers and escorted similar groups to numerous large Christian music festivals. If you’re interested in attending a future Rock the Universe event, we hope this helps with your planning.
Rock the Universe 2023 Concerts
The headlining musical acts perform on the Music Plaza stage, but unlike a Winter Jam concert, most musical acts perform a complete set. For those familiar with Mardi Gras concerts at Universal Studios Florida, each Rock the Universe individual concert entertained and led in worship for approximately the same length of time as Mardi Gras concerts. Each night offers nine different musical acts spread across three stages. Though impossible to see all the concerts, guests can find a musical style they enjoy.
The audiences for the shows compare similarly to Mardi Gras concerts in crowd size (although the percentage of “Jesus” apparel being worn is higher at Rock the Universe). The crowd for the Skillet concert on Friday evening looked larger than any Mardi Gras concert our reporter has seen, including those hitting capacity, so if you want a location near the stage, you should plan to arrive early and wait.
A second stage is located at the end of Hollywood Boulevard near Mel’s Diner. This stage provides a more intimate environment than the main Music Plaza Stage, and our reporter was able to watch the Ryan Craft concert from only about twenty yards from the stage. Though the fenced pathways can create confusion for guests unfamiliar with Universal Studios Florida, this smaller setting offers a great atmosphere.
The third concert stage is the Coca- Cola FanZone stage on Delancey Street in the park’s New York section. This much-smaller venue provides up-and-coming musical acts with the chance to shine. However, the definition of up-and-coming should be clarified, as these artists may be new to the Christian music scene, but several have multiple CDs and immense experience. For example, our reporter enjoyed the a Ben Fuller concert on this stage. His most famous single is “Who I Am,” which receives a large amount of play on Christian music stations. DJ Promote closes out the evening at this location.
Our reporter also met with Stephen Stanley after his musical set on the FanZone stage. Stanley chatted with many guests after his concert and posed for photos, so this smaller setting allows Rock the Universe guests to have the opportunity to interact with the musical artists.
Rock the Universe 2023 Merchandise and Autograph Sessions
For this event, Sound Stage 33 (located behind the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon attraction) converts into a merchandise and autograph session location. Signs help guests find the sound stage.
The autograph sessions function on a first-come-first-served basis. Unfortunately, the mobile app and event map fail to list these sessions’ schedules; however, the attraction wait time sign near the entrance to Universal Studios Florida does list them. Team members recommended that guests arrive one hour before the scheduled autograph session time to ensure meeting the musical acts. For the headlining acts, this recommendation definitely deserves consideration.
Theme Park Attractions
While the concerts are the primary reason to attend Rock the Universe, Universal Studios Florida’s attractions do operate during this event. The park’s major rides were running on both nights of the event, and wait times matched the daytime waits. Also, The Bourne Stuntacular attraction held shows during Rock the Universe.
Universal Orlando sells Express Passes for this event, and based on the wait times for most attractions on the two nights of this event, those interested primarily in the theme park attractions could see value in purchasing express passes. While waits for most attractions rivaled a moderate crowd-level day at Universal Studios Florida, our reporter noticed waits were higher during Rock the Universe than they were earlier in the week. According to team members, a similar amount of people attended each evening of Rock the Universe as attended during daytime hours this weekend.
One exception to this pattern could be seen in the Diagon Alley area of Universal Studios Florida where the wait time for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts attraction were similar to other attractions, but lower than during daytime hours.
One possible explanation is that a small percentage of Jesus followers avoid anything about magic and witchcraft. Whether or not one agrees, this could be why Diagon Alley often looked less crowded during the event than during the day. Of course, as our reporter witnessed numerous times, some guests at Rock the Universe missed the entrance to Diagon Alley even when looking for it. Also, Diagon Alley closed during Rock the Universe events in some previous years, perhaps for this reason.
For those looking to ride attractions, Rock the Universe certainly offers that; however, if you come expecting low waits for attractions, this year’s event shows evidence not to support that plan.
Also, in previous years, Fridays offered lower wait times for attractions, both during the day and during Rock the Universe, but this year, our reporter experienced lower waits on Saturday. He attributed this to the fact that Skillet headlined Friday night, drawing far more interest than Zac Williams on Saturday. Many guests also told our reporter that they purchased tickets only for Friday night, even though Saturday costs only about $40 more.
Youth Leader Lounges
Because this event is focused on Christian youth groups, most attendees participate as a part of those groups. These gatherings of teens arrive at Universal Studios Florida with adult chaperones, and Universal Orlando extends special status to these brave souls leading the teens. In the past, adult chaperones received special access to theme park attractions. In addition, two youth leader lounges provide rest and refreshments for adult church group leaders.
One lounge was located at the Horror Make Up Show’s Pantages Theater. This, traditionally, offers private viewing for concerts on the Hollywood stage. A second lounge area is a Lombard’s Seafood Grille. In the past, these areas provided snacks and beverages for youth leaders, and our reporter was told that was also the case this year. If you’re familiar with the Grad Bash or Gradventure events at Universal Orlando, the lounges work similarly during Rock the Universe.
Rock the Universe Planning Tips
- People started waiting for concerts at least a half hour before, even for the smaller venue. If you want to see a specific artist, definitely plan to arrive early even at the Hollywood and FanZone stage.
- If you’re looking for Rock the Universe merchandise, the kiosk near Music Plaza Stage sold event-specific merchandise on Friday, Saturday, and the following Sunday as well. The queue for merchandise at this location seemed relatively small over the weekend.
- Prepare to stand a lot for this event. All concert venues require guests to stand, and on several occasions, team members asked guests to stand to make room for additional guests. If you are not used to standing for long periods, you should plan accordingly.
- Universal Orlando Resort organizes the park very well for Rock the Universe; however, many areas become cramped and very crowded, which adds to the confusion for guests less familiar with the theme park. When you arrive for the event, take some time to familiarize yourself with Universal Studios Florida early in the night to avoid confusion later.
- Universal Parks and Resorts partners with many church youth leader groups. Due to these partnerships, leaders from excellent groups like Student Leadership University will encourage teens to focus on purpose in life. Some language used by those leaders (and a few musical artists) may sound a bit “preachy.” Still, this event brings more positives to our world than negatives from the perspective of our reporter.
- Guests should download the Universal Orlando Resort mobile app before attendance as all the information needed for Rock the Universe can be found on the mobile app.. For example, the app included a map listing the concert venues, but many guests spent time walking around looking for a map each evening.
- The queues for food and beverage on Friday during Rock the Universe exceeded similar queues during daytime hours. On Saturday, queues moved a bit faster, but the food and beverage waits were more extended than during the day. If you’re planning to eat during this event, we suggest you prepare for a wait. Ironically, the wait for the Leaky Cauldron food and beverage reached a low level on several occasions during the event. However, on Saturday, waits looked lower than on Friday evening this year. Also, if you desire alcoholic beverages during this event, only Finnegan’s Bar & Grill served drinks containing alcohol.
Rock the Universe 2023 marked the event’s 25th year, and it will return next year on Jan. 26-27, 2024. We hope you this report will help with your planning for future Rock the Universe events.
Will you be attending Rock the Universe in the future? Did you attend this year? Let us know in the comments below.