LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION….
There is no better place to live in the world of your favorite movies than at Universal Orlando Resort! Universal Orlando Resort, an amazing destination in Orlando, Florida, grew to MORE than a single day park when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter made it’s debut! With three parks, Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios & Volcano Bay (be careful, you just may get wet) there is many thrills to be found and that makes this an awesome destination for your next family vacation. While we can write a book on all there is to do, we narrowed it down to our favorites! Here are our recommendations for a 4 day vacation at Universal Orlando Resort!
First and foremost, selecting the best park ticket for your family is imperative for your Universal Orlando vacation!
We highly recommend the Universal Park-to-Park ticket option. The Park-to-Park ticket is a must so you can experience the Hogwarts Express! And trust us, you don’t want to miss this amazing attraction! With the parks being so close together, you’ll also enjoy having the flexibility of moving between the parks. You know, in case the crowds get to be too much in one.
We also recommend a 3-Park ticket. This allows you access to both theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, AND the award winning water park, Volcano Bay. It is SO much more than a water park!
So, when you’re ready to speak with your Magical Memory Planner, tell them you want the 3-park, park-to-park ticket!
Express Unlimited Pass
Universal Express Unlimited is an amazing ticket feature to consider. We feel that after using the Express Unlimited pass, it’s hard to visit the parks without it! That’s just how good it is. However, this feature can be costly if you have a larger family. If you have a family of four or five, you may find booking at a premier hotel—Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, or Royal Pacific—is the best budget option since Universal Express Unlimited is included (for free) for all guests. The prices of the Universal Express Unlimited pass cost varies based on season/availability.
Speaking of Hotels..
At Universal Orlando, you have several options for staying on site! Staying on site is always preferred for the “perks” available to you.
If you have a smaller family or a larger family and need two rooms and do not desire the Express pass then Sapphire Falls, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Aventura, Endless Summer Resorts may be a better option. But don’t worry..if you decide you DO want the Express Unlimited pass, you can still add it on to your ticket. Your Magical Memory Planner can help you determine which is the best option for you.
Here are a few “tidbits” about the hotels that DO NOT include the Universal Unlimited Express Pass.
Loew’s Sapphire Falls: the closest of the “budget” hotels, has a walking path. Standard size rooms. Has a ferry to and from City Walk, pool
Aventura: Standard size rooms, walking path to Volcano Bay, has kids suites (no “kids” theming, per say), has rooftop bar, pool
Cabana Bay Beach Resort: retro style from the 1950’s and 60’s, has a bowling alley, lazy river and multiple pools, tower overlooks Volcano Bay, family suites are available, rooms are standard size.
Endless Summer Resorts: two theming options: Surfside (smaller hotel) and Dockside (larger hotel). Surfside has one pool, Dockside has two. Both have 2 bedroom suites options.
The hotels that DO include Universal Unlimited Express Pass are Loew’s Portofino Resort, Hard Rock Resort, Loew’s Royal Pacific. Here are a few of our favorite “perks” and amenities available at these hotels.
Portofino Resort: Luxury level resort with standard rooms, club level rooms, suites and Despicable Me themed rooms for kids (or the kid at heart). Two pools (family friendly pool and a quiet pool). Spa. Ferry to Islands of Adventure & Universal Studios and a walking path available as well.
Hard Rock Resort: Luxury level resort with standard rooms, club level rooms and suites. Large pool, spa, and extra perks like renting a record player or guitar for your room. Walking distance to Universal Studios, Ferry to City Walk.
Royal Pacific: Standard, club level and suites available. Ferry to City Walk & parks, walk way available. Nice pool & fitness center.
We do recommend you stay at one of the onsite hotels listed above. Although only a few come with the Express Unlimited pass, all onsite hotels do include the special benefit of early park admission. Between the convenience of location and the extra hour of park time, we believe an onsite hotel is the best choice to truly enjoy all that Universal Orlando Resort has to offer.
Universal Orlando 4-Day Itinerary
Here is just a sample of what WE would do if we were planning the “best” four day Universal Orlando vacation!
Day 1 – Arrival and Islands of Adventure
Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the closest airport to Universal. It is a quick 10 minute drive (depending on traffic) to the Universal Orlando property. Your Magical Memory Planner can even help you secure your transfer via Universal’s Superstar Shuttle
If you have a morning arrival, you will have the day to have fun! If your room isn’t ready, no worries! You can leave your luggage with bell services. First park to visit in our (sample) itinerary is Islands of Adventure.
Once you are IN the park, have a Universal Photo’s photographer take a photo of you and your party at the entrance, then head down and to the right where you will find Seuss Landing! Carou-Seuss-el and The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride are two MUST do’s! Don’t forget to wander through the pathway through the Truffula tree’s to the Once-ler’s House and listen through the pipes! A perfect photo op is the reminder the Lorax left for the Once-ler!
HUNGRY? As you head out of Seuss Landing, stop in Lost Continent and grab a gyro at Fire Eater’s Grill or a kebab at Doc Sugrue’s Kebab House.
Grab your wand! The next stop will be Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
Insider’s Tip: For Butterbeer and spirits, go to the back of Three Broomsticks to Hog’s Head.
At The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll want to take your time walking around. Visit Ollivanders for a wand fitting, see the Frog Choir sing, and maybe even enjoy other live performances. You can also visit the Owl Post and send a postcard to a loved one or friend. Once you have your wand from Ollivander’s you can test your magic skills around Hogsmeade at the windows that have a little gold disk on the ground. Don’t forget to go to the lavatory. Moaning Myrtle is still there, causing a ruckus.
Our favorite ride in Hogsmeade is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure! But you definitely will not want to miss Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey! This is the only time you can walk through Hogwarts Castle!
Insider’s TIP: if you have smaller muggles or wizards, whom cannot ride, don’t worry! They can walk in the queue with you and there is a parent swap inside the castle!
The Flight of the Hippogriff is a fun kid sized ride that has more bite than you’d realize and it’s definitely not one to miss! But don’t worry! Buckbeak the Hippogriff will get you safely back to the station.
If the line’s of any of these are extremely long and you do not have an Express Pass, you can always re-visit Hogsmeade another day.
After you’ve practiced your magic, ridden a broomstick and been to the Forbidden Forest, head over the bridge next to Hogwarts, out of Hogsmeade and into Jurassic Park.
Velocicoaster is a MUST do for the thrill seekers in your group! We prefer to ride at night but understand if the time just doesn’t work out. Any seat in the coaster is amazing. Be sure and listen to Owen and Claire drop some important information about the rapor’s at the paddock!
Insider’s Tip: Have NOTHING on yourself besides your clothes and lanyards. Wear glasses? Leave them in the locker. If it’s loose, it WILL fall off. Even make sure those lanyards are tucked into your shirt and the top of your pants before boarding. Many have lost their lanyards because they were not tucked in tight enough.
After you’ve chased the raptor’s, it’s a great time to visit the Raptor Encounter and Jurassic Park Discovery Center. And the ride that started it all, Jurassic Park River Journey. Remember what Owen said about the raptor’s at the paddock? Well..you’re about to experience it! AND..you might get wet.
Now might be a good time to head out and check into your room at the hotel and refresh for dinner. The quickest way out of the park, is the way you came in. Through Seuss Landing.
Once you’re checked in and refreshed, City Walk is our go to for dinner! So many options to choose from. Toothsome Chocolate Emporium is an amazing option. Margaritaville is another great option. Occasionally they have live music on the Porch of Indecision. You can make a reservation on Tomato or call them. Ask for the porch! Also, be sure and try the Volcano Nachos! Yum!! My personal favorite is Antijito’s! A Mexican restaurant with table-side guacamole to die for. They have a mariachi band at night. The food is good and the margarita’s are yummy. Reservations can be made on Open-Table.
BUT..If your family is tired, head back to the hotel, relax, swim, and have dinner at the hotel. Every on-site hotel has great dining options!
Day 2 – Universal Orlando
Insider’s Tip: A perk that comes with using a Magical Memory Planner and staying on-site, you get early entry to a park during the morning. The park varies but the only portion open in either park is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can check to see which park is open for early park entry on the app or at the concierge desk within the hotel.
IF early entry is at Island’s of Adventure: take advantage of the smaller crowds and ride or re-ride Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure or Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts Castle. Once the park’s both open, we recommend riding Hogwart’s Express to Universal Studios and spending some time in Diagon Alley.
IF early entry is at Universal Studios: You’ll have extra time in Diagon Alley and can revisit Island’s of Adventure on another day.
Once you are in Diagon Alley, you can grab breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron, but you may want to head to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts first. Then spend some time in Diagon Alley! Make sure you have your wand! There are more “magical experiences” around Diagon Alley and down Knockturn Alley!
Insider’s Tip: Knockturn Alley is a GREAT place to go when the Florida humidity is overwhelming or mom needs a quite place with a sleeping baby. It’s dark and cool.
The Gringotts Money Exchange is fun and you can get some wizard money. Also throughout the day you can see some performances on the stage by the Money Exchange office. There are amazing shops throughout Diagon Alley and you can even buy a chocolate frog or Bertie Bott’s to take home with you.
Our favorite treat is in Florean Fortesque’s Ice Cream Parlor. The butterbeer ice cream is yummy! But really, any of their options are great!
Once you’ve explored Diagon Alley, head out into London. Be sure and check on 12 Grimmauld Place! Look up to the window, and WAIT.
Spend the remainder of the day exploring the movies that ARE Universal Studios. We love to turn left from London and go to Men in Black and then on to Springfield.
If you have little’s Fievel’s Playground is fun and don’t forget ET back there! It’s a Universal Studios classic!
Go down Hollywood Blvd and check out Bourne Stunt Spectacular! This is also a great place to cool down.
Some of our favorite lunch locations in Universal Studios are Louie’s Italian Restaurant for a slice of New York style pizza. Or Monster Cafe for a yummy burger! If you’re in the mood for seafood, stop in San Francisco and grab something to eat at Lombard’s Seafood Grille.
After you have seen enough, go to Kings Cross Station just outside Diagon Alley, and take the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.
Tip: As you move through Kings Cross Station take note of all the elements. There is so much to see.
When you move to platform 9 ¾, listen for the special sound.
Next go through Skull Island: Reign of Kong and on to the Toon Lagoon. Since it’s the middle of the day and you may be wet from Jurassic Park River Adventure, this is a good time to also hit Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. You will get soaked.
Day 3 – Volcano Bay
We always try to start the day at Volcano Bay. This is when the crowds are the lowest and you can find that perfect lounge chair! If you want reserved seating or a cabana, be sure and talk to your Magical Memory Planner prior to travel. These do require reservations ahead of time and sell out frequently.
Be sure you have the Universal App set up so you can link your Tapu Tapu when you get to the park. Tapu Tapu helps you handle the lines, charge items (so you don’t need to carry money), get in and out of a rented locker, and load your photos. Everything you need to pay and play.
Once you are situated, use Tapu Tapu to get into a virtual line. In the meantime, you can ride anything that says “Ride Now”. The rides that build up the longest lines are Krakatau (my favorite), Ko’okiri Body Plunge, and Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides. If those are rides you want to do, then go for them first. The two rivers (one lazy and one crazy) and the wave pool are areas to enjoy if you are waiting in a virtual queue and there is nothing available to “Ride Now”. The park’s crowds peak mid-day so get to the park early and get started on the fun.
You may want to stay all day or you may want to leave in the early afternoon. If you leave early, head to Islands of Adventure and take the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando. It’s sort of the long way to get to Universal Orlando BUT the train is fun to ride in the other direction.
Insider’s Tip: Don’t forget your towels. You can use ones from your resort. Just don’t forget to bring them with you.
Spend the evening checking out Island’s of Adventure.
Instead of turning right to Seuss Landing, turn left and go to Super Hero Island. The thrill coaster on this island is The Hulk! A family friendly ride is Spider Man!
Next head to Toon Lagoon and ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. You will get soaked. Not wet, SOAKED! If you’re craving something yummy, The Dagwood sandwich is REALLY good!
After you’ve spent time at Toon Lagoon, head to Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
Day 4 – Universal Orlando
Hopefully, you have a later flight on your last day so you can revisit one of the parks and re-ride your favorites or ride the ones you missed!
Don’t forget to be back at your resort in time to take the Super Star Shuttle back to the airport.
This itinerary is just a start. At Magical Memory Planners, we work with each family individually to help them create a plan that works best for the needs of their family. Let us help you create a magical Universal Orlando vacation at no additional cost to you.