First Timer Tips for Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando Resort has SO much to offer when planning a family vacation. Two theme parks, an amazing waterpark, and the beautiful resorts make it a relaxing, yet thrilling family vacation spot! I am excited to share all my first timer tips for Universal Orlando Resort with you! These first timer tips for Universal Orlando Resort are exactly what you need!

Planning a trip to Universal Orlando is honestly one of the easier vacations you will ever plan.  In comparison to the park down the street….where I admittedly spend quite a bit of time….planning a trip to Universal Orlando is refreshing!  While you want to be prepared, the planning timeline is not what is is when planning a Disney vacation.  And I love that!  There is a first time for everything, and having some first timer tips for planning a trip to Universal Orlando in your back pocket is a wise idea!

First Timer Tips for Universal Orlando Resort

We chose to visit Universal Orlando for the first time as a family when our twins were 14.  As little boys, they were always into Transformers, Spiderman, superheroes, etc. As they turned into teenagers, and started to enjoy Harry Potter, we felt like it was the perfect time.

While our little one was 7, she still enjoyed it.  But, my first piece of advice is to wait until your youngest child is at least 8 or 9 before visiting, if possible. She had a good time at a young age, but Universal is really geared toward that older child/tween and up age range.   

Universal Orlando Property is So Easy to Navigate

Did you know that Universal Orlando is a completely walkable property?  While there are both motorcoach and water taxi transportation options, you can actually walk to any location on Universal property. This means it’s not so massive that you are losing a lot of transportation time, trying to get from one place to the next. 

Universal Orlando is composed of two theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. They also have an amazing waterpark, Volcano Bay.  Citywalk is the shopping and dining area of the resort.  Universal Orlando also hosts onsite hotels. Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls, Aventura Hotel, and Endless Summer Surfside and Dockside Inn.  So many choices!

Citywalk is the primary “hub” of Universal. Whether you access the parks by boat, a motorcoach, or walking, you have to go to Citywalk first. Buses and boats drop you off at Citywalk, and all walking paths lead here.  From Citywalk, you walk over to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios to enter your park of choice.

Only three of the onsite Universal Hotels participate in Express Pass.  This is REALLY important information ot know! Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay, and Hard Rock Hotel allow guests front of the line access, on an unlimited basis, to attractions during your stay.  This is essential if you want to see as much of Universal as possible during your time there.  If you would like to use Express Pass, but you are NOT staying at one of those hotels, you can add it to your tickets for a fee.  Universal guests must also have a park to park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express, so keep that in mind!


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What are the best tickets for a Universal Orlando trip?

Universal Orlando offers both “Park to Park” and “Base” Tickets.  This is one of the most important first timer tips for planning a trip to Universal Orlando. While base tickets may be more economical, the park to park tickets at Universal are “worth it” in my opinion. First, you are not losing a lot of travel time between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.  You can literally walk out of one and into the ticket gates of the other.  This ease between parks makes it so easy, and time efficient to visit both parks in one day.  Secondly, to ride the Hogwarts Express, you need a park to park ticket.  You cannot board the Hogwarts Express without it.  Hogwarts Express takes guests between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, and is a must do for any Harry Potter fan!

Universal often offers great specials on park tickets. Sometimes, you can find a “Buy 2 Get 3 Days Free” offer.  Sometimes they offer Volcano Bay as a complimentary add on, etc. They are REALLY generous with their ticket offers, and it’s well worth it to take advantage of them.  

Things to Know about the Universal Parks

A Universal Orlando vacation is at least a 4-5 night vacation.  Ideally, three days of Universal park tickets is the perfect amount to see both parks.  If you want to add Volcano Bay, then I suggest having 4-days of tickets.  The Universal Parks, particularly the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, are FULL of the most amazing details ever. 

Giving yourself plenty of park time is well worth it, to take in the details and attractions from your favorite movies. Also, the parks and resorts are so close to each other, accessing the parks is super easy.  It makes it worthwhile to go back for an afternoon break, or maybe even get a late start to the parks if you need to sleep in…and you’ll still be able to do so much!

Take advantage of Child Swap.  I LOVE this aspect of Universal. Whether you don’t meet the height requirement, or you just don’t feel like taking on Transformers AGAIN, Child Swap is for you! Anyone, regardless of age or “reason” why they don’t want to ride an attraction is allowed to wait for their party in the child swap room.  Your family stays together in line, and then those who don’t want to ride wait in the air conditioned Child Swap area, which is typically very close to the boarding area of the attraction.  

First Timer Tips for Universal Orlando

Express Pass, Coca Cola Freestyle Cups, and Park to Park Tickets are amazing. If I had to narrow down my “Top 3 Tips”, I would highly suggest those three aspects.  Express Pass, you literally walk to the front of the line and board the attraction.  Now that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Attractions {aside from Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike Adventure} accept Express Pass, this is huge game changer for touring the parks. 

Secondly, LOVE the Coca Cola Freestyle Cups.  These are amazing, convenient, and we drank every penny’s worth of Coke products during our stay.  Park to Park Tickets are amazing. With Universal being a completely walkable property, you can easily navigate both parks in one day, plus have time for a pool break!

Keep in mind that the Universal Studios Florida parks are geared toward families with older children.  That is not to say that there isn’t something for everyone.  However, Universal has some fairly “tall” height requirements, and I feel as if older children are more interested in action movies, Harry Potter, and the overall cinema experience in general.  My opinion is that if your child is younger than 8, he/she may not get the full experience that you are hoping for out of a Universal Orlando vacation.

Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando Resort 

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Universal’s Sapphire Falls Resort

Why We Love the Universal Premier Hotels

Best Tips for Visiting Volcano Bay

How to Choose the Best Universal Hotel for Your Family

Overall, Universal Studios Florida is a fantastic destination for your next Orlando vacation.  If you are a movie fan, enjoy the magic of Harry Potter, and want to get up close with the Transformers, it is for you!  Does your family enjoy some Dr. Seuss, the Minions, and even Shrek?  If so, then it’s for sure worth your time to visit!

Carrie Hurst

Not only do I love sharing all my vacation tips and ideas here on A Princess and Her Pirates, but I also work alongside families to create magical vacation memories year after year! Email me at to begin the planning process, and join hundreds of families on my current guest list.


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