Universal Studios Orlando – Tips for a great vacation!

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Universal Studios Best Kid Vacations

Universal Studios has a lot to offer for a family vacation.  It is fairly economical in the realm of theme park vacations and a great time for kids of all ages.  Between the two parks at Universal Orlando they offer several rides for children under 40 inches as well as numerous “thrill” rides for the older kids.

We started planning our vacation by looking online and pricing various “discount” sites.  My best advice: skip the hours of online pricing.  Contact Universal directly or use your local authorized Universal Studios Vacation planner.  This service is free and in the end we received the best package for the price directly from Universal.

Tip: Stay in one of their onsite hotels that offers a Universal Express Pass.  The pass can cost up to $89 per person/per day and pays for itself in time, convenience, & fun.  You also get to enter the park an hour early which can decrease wait time for the few rides that don’t take the express pass.

Pay for your park tickets/vacation with American Express.  If you use your American Express to  pay for your vacation package and/or park tickets your family will be able to utilize their private lounge in the Universal Studios Florida Park.  The lounge is open from 12-5 everyday, it is air conditioned, and offers FREE water, light snacks, and cell phone chargers for guests.  We planned all of our water breaks around the lounge hours and saved a lot of money on water and snacks.  Tip: The “secret” lounge is hard to find.  The lounge is located next to Shrek’s souvenir shop with a very small sign on the door.  Using your American Express in the park will also get you discounts on other purchases such as food and merchandise.

We stayed at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel located onsite.  This is one of the deluxe hotels that offers a free Universal Express Pass™, early park admission, complimentary water taxi to the park, and priority seating at several restaurants.  The free water taxis are very easy to use and run all day every 20-30 minutes.  There are also rickshaw taxis that are a fun ride for the kids.  Make sure you have a few dollars because, while the rickshaw taxi ride is free to ride, the drivers are working for tips.

Staying onsite Universal Studios
Riding the rickshaw is about 5 minutes faster than the water taxi

Where to eat:  While we are generally “foodies” on vacation we were very tired every night and enjoyed most evening dinners in our room from Sal’s Market Deli located at the Loews Portofino Bay hotel.  Sal’s has the best prices so the restaurant is generally busy.  They were able to accommodate our youngest son’s food allergies and most evenings we enjoyed a brick oven pizza to go.  You can even pick up a reasonably priced bottle of wine to enjoy in your room after the kiddos are in bed.

Our package included breakfast on two mornings at each of the Harry Potter themed restaurants Three Broomsticks & The Leaky Cauldron.  Our meal “plan of attack” was to eat a filling breakfast,  take advantage of the American Express lounge chips & granola bars in the afternoon, and enjoy a nice dinner.  Universal CityWalk® is filled with great restaurants and we managed to slow down one day for a much needed sit down lunch at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

The Parks:

Universal Orlando has two parks on site, Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure.  We had a three day dual park pass and we spent an entire day at each park and then visited both theme parks on our last day taking a last ride (or two) on our favorite attractions.

A few of our Favorites Rides:

Transformers 3D™ – Super fun 3D thrill ride.  Makes you feel like you are in the middle of a Transformers Movie.  Great fun for the whole family (including our 4 year old) and this ride was Express Pass friendly.

Transformers ride Universal Studios Orlando
Meeting Bumblebee

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™ – Who doesn’t love Minions?  This was THE favorite of our four year old and Express Pass friendly so we were able to ride “the Minion ride” multiple times.  As you exit there is usually a character photo opportunity with a dancing Minion.

Best Kid Ride Universal Studios
Despicable Me Character Meet n Greet

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley – This was one of the main reasons we chose Universal Studios for this trip.  It is amazing; when you enter Diagon Alley you feel like you are transported to the Diagon Alley in the movie.  Make sure to choose a magic wand from Ollivanders™ wand shop.  There are several interactive “wand practice” locations in both parks where the kids can use their wands to do things like move objects and turn on water fountains.  Tip: A dual park ticket allows you to ride The Hogwarts™ Express to the Harry Potter feature at Universal Islands of Adventure.  But you’ll have to get through platform 9 3/4 first!


The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man® – Another high tech 3D fully immersed theme ride located in the Islands of Adventure Theme Park.  At one point you can almost reach out and touch Spiderman on the front of your ride car.

Character meet and greet Universal Studios


Flight of the Hippogriff™ – This is a fun family friendly roller coaster located in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade™ in the Islands of Adventure Theme Park.  The height requirement is only 36″ with an adult.  This ride is eligible for the Universal Express Pass. At night our thrill seeking four year old enjoyed riding this roller coaster several times in the dark.

If your dream is to ride a Nimbus 2000, check out the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ located in Hogwarts Castle.  This ride requirement is 48″ and our oldest son’s favorite attraction.  Parents beware: It’s a wild ride with a lot of motion – be cautious if you tend to experience motion sickness. Tip: Most rides with height restrictions offer “Child Swap” areas where parents can take turns enjoying the ride while the other stays with the younger child(ren) in the child swap room.

All of the rides and attractions located in Suess Landing™ are family friendly and a nice attraction for families with small children under eight.  Our favorite was The Cat In The Hat™ ride that takes you through a Dr. Suess book page by page.  Best of all, it is air-conditioned.  Ice cold.  The weather was hot during our visit and we rode this ride several times when we needed to cool off and slow our pace.

Dr. Suess Universal Studios
Suess Landing™

Cat in the Hat ride Universal

Overall we loved our Universal Studios Orlando Vacation and will definitely return.  We stayed 4 days with a 3 day park hopper pass.  We spent one day enjoying the pool area of the Loews Portofino Bay hotel.  The hotels features a very nice tropical style pool with a free water slide.  There is also a separate kiddie pool and splash area suitable for babies and toddlers.  Tip: We found we were too tired after a day at the park to enjoy an upscale restaurant experience. “Pool day” is a great day to make evening reservations at one of the nice restaurants located in Universal CityWalk®.


A few more tips:

Wear comfortable shoes.  Looking back I would wear some type of water sport tennis shoes or sport sandals with a comfortable strong sole.  I had to break down and purchase different shoes during our trip.

Get the Universal Express Pass™.  Most of the rides are eligible for the express pass and we noticed a significant decrease in ride wait times.  The pass allows for unlimited use everyday on each express pass eligible ride.  This allowed us to enjoy more rides, more family time, and a decreased need to feel rushed walking to the next ride.  Most of the time if the wait was 45 minutes in the regular line we waited 10-15 minutes tops.  When you break down the cost of the free Express Pass each guest receives by staying onsite it makes sense to upgrade to one of the deluxe hotels.

Enjoy a free show.  We tried to think of ways to slow down during the day and we stopped to enjoy the Beetlejuice Graveyard review.  It was a fun show and a great way to take a quick rest.

We really needed a show rest!
Best Shows Universal Studios

Get the park pass protectors/lanyards.  I tried to save money by carrying our park tickets and fast passes in my pocket.  Big mistake! I lost one set the first day and had to waste time at guest services getting new passes.  It is much more convenient to scan your express pass at each ride with the pass protector lanyard. 

Wear Cargo shorts/pants.  Make sure someone in your party wears cargo pants or shorts.  Purses and bags are not allowed on any ride.  This comes in handy if you need to carry larger items (we carry an epipen).  Try not to carry a purse or large bag unless absolutely necessary.  Sometimes fashion has to go out the door for convenience!  *If you must carry a bag or purse there are lockers available outside most of the rides as well as stroller parking areas located throughout the park.

Its a great place to celebrate a birthday. Our eldest sons birthday landed in the middle of our trip. When he mentioned it at the front gate he received an official birthday button.  Everyone in the park stopped to wish him happy birthday, the ride attendants “high-fived” him all day.  He felt like a million bucks.

Purchase the Amazing Picture photo package.  Ours cost around $60 and included unlimited picture opportunities at the park.  You will receive a bar code card  that allows you to walk up to any park photographer and have your picture taken with various characters or backgrounds.  Download their Amazing Picture App and within 10 minutes you will see that picture in the app on your phone.  If you visit a photo station they will add dates and special effects for you.  It is really that simple! You can download the pictures, email them, and share on social media.  This also saved us from carrying an extra camera.  And… you’ll get pictures like this:

Jurassic Park Universal Studios


I hope you enjoy your trip to Universal Studios Orlando as much as we did.  We can’t wait to go back. Please feel free to add your tips, comments or questions below!  Happy travels!

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21 thoughts on “Universal Studios Orlando – Tips for a great vacation!

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  3. Bennie Spika

    It is really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Claire

    Wow, I am so dying to visit Universal Studios!

    I love all of your helpful tips and I’ll definitely bookmark this article so that I can re-read it when we do finally make the trek over to the US again.

    We are luxury backpackers who try to live on £1,000 per month and so I’ll have to undertake some major budget trickery to get this to work but I’m up for the challenge!

    Thanks for a great post!

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  8. Shobha

    Oh these are great tips! I didn’t know about the Amex lounge… we use Amex all the time so that would be really handy. We’ve promised the kids a trip to Universal next year.

  9. Allison Post author

    Yes, we made good use out of the AMEX lounge during our last visit. We are planning to make a stop at the lounge each day to cool off and enjoy a few snacks and water on our upcoming trip to Universal. The AMEX lounge is a nice perk!

  10. Vyjay

    Great trips for any amusement park. I can see you had a great time. Our last trip too an amusement park was Disneyland in Hong Kong and we had a great ttime. Amusement parks are great fun for kids and also adults can unleash the child in them here.

  11. Stephanie Langlet

    I spent a long long time to read you post 😀 I fear there’s still a kid inside me and I couldn’t resist searching for several videos of the attractions like Harry Potter and the forbidden journey!