Everything You Need to Know About Universal Studios – Orlando
Orlando is one of the best places in the world for theme parks. Some of the more popular ones include Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios. We have been a few times now and love the place. On our last visit we decided to give Universal Studios a go. Although it’s not as big as Disney World it is still definitely worth a visit if you have some extra time in Orlando.
There are two parks at Universal:
1. Universal Studios Florida
2. Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Both are right next to each other so it’s only a short walk between them. You really need to do both to experience it. They are both quite different. Our preference was the Islands of Adventure Park. There was more to do and the rides were better including the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
How Many Days Do You Need in the Park?
This one is always difficult to answer because it depends on what you want to do. We personally found that two days was enough even though we had a 3 day pass. On the first day we spent about 7 hours in the Universal Studios Park, the second day we spent about 5 hours at the Islands of Adventure Park and on the third day we spent only a few hours in the morning at Islands of Adventure again.
Technically you could do both parks in the one day especially if you started early and went through to closing time. But it really is a lot more comfortable to take two days and three days really makes for a really relaxed visit.
Can You Hire a Stroller or Wheelchair in the park?
When we visited Universal Studios Orlando we were required to hire a wheelchair for Wanda who had achilles heel tendonitis. She was in quite a bit of pain and it would have been impossible for her to walk the huge distances required to get around the park. Fortunately the park provided this service and we were able to hire a wheelchair for $12 a day with a $50 deposit which was returned to us at the end of each day.
The following rental fees apply:
Wheelchairs – $12 per day plus $50 deposit
Electronic Convenience Chair – $50 per day plus $50 deposit
Strollers – $14.99 per day
Single Kiddie Car – $17.99 per day
Double Kiddie Car – $27.99
Double Strollers – $24.99 per day
(These rates may change so be sure to check the Universal Studios site.)
How Much Are the Tickets?
We purchased our tickets at our hotel. We decided on the 3 day pass because it was only $15 extra between that one and the 2 day pass. We figured that even if we didn’t use all three days worth then we weren’t going to lose much.
The 3 day pass was $150, the 2 day was $135 and the 1 day was $120. It’s always worth checking out the Universal Studios Orlando website to see if they are offering any special deals. And make sure you check the right website since there is also a Universal Studios in Los Angeles and they have totally different ticket prices.
Hotels Near Universal Studios Orlando
When looking for a hotel near Universal Studios there a few things you need to think about. The first is whether you are prepared to do a bit of walking from your hotel to get to the main entrance. When we went, we wanted to be as close as possible and found the Holiday Inn Express – Nearest Universal Studios. We assumed it was the closest because in their hotel title they use the words “Nearest Universal Studios”. However, it ended up being further than many other hotels in the area and involved a 25 minute walk to get there.
We should have booked the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites – Main Gate hotel which is much closer. However, even that hotel involves a good 10 to 15 minute walk.
It looks as though the two Holiday Inns near Universal Studios get confused quite often because even our shuttle driver dropped us off at the wrong hotel and we had to get a taxi to the right one so if you are booking a Holiday Inn near Universal Studios pay attention to the hotel name.
Our Holiday Inn Express hotel was okay. It was clean and we had a free breakfast and wifi. However it was just too far from anything and without a car it was difficult to get around. Sure, they provided a shuttle to the park but it only ran three times in the morning and three times at night. So you had to be up early and then stay in the park all day until the first shuttle left at 6.50pm to come back to the hotel.
Also the only food available that didn’t involve a walk was Wendy’s and although their burgers were okay we didn’t want to live on junk food.
So ultimately we decided to check out early and spend the last couple of days in one of the Universal Studios resort hotels. Well, what a difference! We chose the Loews Royal Pacific Resort hotel. This resort truly was within walking distance and it provided a free water taxi shuttle to and from the park every 15 minutes or so throughout the day. It was heavenly compared to the Holiday Inn. The rooms were big and spacious and the ambiance of the hotel itself was peaceful and relaxing. It also had numerous eating places right within the hotel which meant we didn’t have to walk for miles to get a decent meal.
This was all at a cost however because the Loews hotel isn’t cheap. However, one of the main benefits of staying at one of the Universal Studios resort hotels in Orlando is that you also get Express access to the rides. This means that when queuing for the rides you get to go in the fast queue so your ride wait time is greatly reduced. For instance, we went on one ride where the wait time was 50 minutes. However, in the Express queue we were on the ride in under 5 minutes.
You don’t have to stay at a resort hotel to get in the Express queue but you have to pay extra for it. The price for an Express ticket can be up to $89 per day per person. The price does fluctuate depending on the day of the week and the time of the year. And remember that the Express ticket price is over and above the price of your ticket to get into the park.
So if there are two of you it can potentially be an extra $180 a day to get the express ticket. However by staying in a resort hotel you get this for free, so even though the resort hotel may seem expensive it isn’t all that bad when you take into account the express tickets. (Refer to the next section below to read more about the Express tickets.)
One of the other benefits of staying at a resort hotel is that you get an extra hour in the morning to get into the park before everyone else. This is a definite must for those who want to see the Harry Potter part of the park as this gets extremely busy.
Officially they are called the Universal Studios Express Plus Pass and they are your way of skipping the regular ride queues which can involve quite an extensive wait.
Wait times on some of the rides can be up to 90 minutes long and under the hot Orlando sun it can be quite exhausting.
As we mentioned above, we stayed at the Loews Pacific Resort Hotel which is one of the Universal Studios Resort hotels so we received complimentary express tickets for each day of our stay. The hotels within the resort that include complimentary express tickets are:
– Loews Pacific Resort Hotel
– Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
– Hard Rock Hotel
If you decide to stay at a hotel outside of the resort then you will need to purchase an express ticket for each day of your visit and for each member in your party. The price for these tickets does vary depending (I guess) on how busy the park is at the time. As I write this, the express tickets are $55 for both parks or if you want to purchase an express ticket for an individual park then it is $40.99 for the Islands of Adventure Park and $20.99 for the Universal Studios Park.
The maximum price for an express ticket is $89 and I assume these prices are probably during the busiest times of the year.
The only time the express ticket doesn’t work is for a couple of the Harry Potter rides, as well as the Pteranodon Flyers and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit rides.
Is it worth it? Yes, definitely. The express ticket reduced our wait time considerably.
What Should You Wear in the Park?
Orlando can get quite hot so light cool clothing is best. A hat is a good idea and sunscreen plus a bottle of water. You might also want to bring one of those throw away raincoats as you can literally get soaked from head to toe on at least two of the water rides. That’s fine on a hot day but if it gets a little cool you will feel miserable for the rest of the day as you attempt to dry off.
Also be aware that on those water rides you will be taking your belongings on the ride with you and they too can get wet. If you have concerns then you can use the lockers scattered throughout the park. They are usually free for the first 30 minutes or so depending on the ride and then they start to charge after that.
Comfortable shoes are a must. We both purchased walking sandals in Las Vegas because we knew it would be hot in Orlando and we didn’t want to wear closed-in shoes.
You might also want to consider purchasing a Scottevest. We both purchased one online before we left Australia and we are so glad we did. These coats are amazing as they have so many pockets that you don’t need to worry about taking a handbag or backpack with you. They are available for both men and women.
Food and Drink in the Park
There are plenty of places to eat in the park but as you can expect it is mostly fast food like burgers, hotdogs, chips, pizza and so on. So if you are into healthy foods you might want to bring your own.
There is a meal deal that you can purchase which is basically an all you can eat type of pass. You get to eat at a number of different restaurants or cafes in the park all day for a fixed price – $20.99 for one park and $24.99 for both parks.
On the first day we purchased the one park pass and had two meals – lunch and an early dinner. For lunch, I had an orange Szechuan chicken with white rice and Wanda had roast chicken with a cob of corn. The meal deal also included a free dessert so we both had a piece of the chocolate mousse cake. Later in the early evening we went to a different eatery and I had the chicken salad and Wanda had a chicken burger with chips. For dessert we again chose the chocolate mousse cake.
How to Get from the Airport to Your Hotel
Orlando Airport is designed quite well. When we arrived we collected our bags and noticed a sign that said “Ground Transportation”. This was on the lower level and when we got there we immediately noticed the Disney Shuttle Bus section. Since we were going to Universal Studios we kept searching and found the Mears Shuttle Bus company. This appears to be the only shuttle bus company in Orlando and it is reflected in the price. To get to our hotel cost us $30 return per person (or $19.95 one way). The taxi fare was around $40 to $50 according to taxifarefinder.com.
You can purchase shuttle transfer tickets online from Mears at http://www.mearstransportation.com/ although we just purchased our tickets at the counter when we got there. The gentlemen on the counter was very helpful. If you purchase a return transfer just remember that you will need to ring 24 hours prior to departure to organise the pickup time from your hotel.