Orlando is, without a doubt, one of the favorite destinations for Brazilians to spend their vacations. That's because the city is home to the most famous parks in the world.
Although many people think that they are all from the Disney, Orlando has three large complexes – Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort e Sea World, in addition to smaller parks. Each complex is made up of parks, an entertainment center, hotels and resorts.
The Universal complex currently has two parks in operation, the Universal Studios and the Islands of adventure, and will soon open the Volcano Bay water park, scheduled for June 2017.
In September of this year Bruno and I were in Orlando, and we wrote down some tips and information about the Universal parks to share with you. We hope they can help you plan your trip, so that you can enjoy the parks to the fullest.
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When to go?
The peak season in United States is the same as in España: July/August and December/January. Of course, everything will depend on your availability of dates to travel, but for those who have greater flexibility and can choose, I recommend the months of May and September, months when the parks are usually more empty, and the weather is more pleasant.
I had already gone to Orlando in July and, I remember the parks were very crowded and the heat was unbearable. This time we went in September 2016 and it was very peaceful! The parks were much emptier, consequently the lines were shorter, and although it was still hot, it was manageable, except that the rains in the late afternoon helped to refresh.
After deciding which month to go, I used a website that shows the parks' capacity calendar, to define which day to go to which park. This site is great, because in addition to the capacity, it shows information such as park opening hours, events, temperature, holidays, etc.
For example, at the time we went, there was already Hallowen in Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios, and this interferes with the opening hours of the parks and the shows (there is no fireworks show at MK on these days, for example), so it made a difference in setting up the parks itinerary.
In addition, through this site I saw that other times that I imagined to be quieter, it is actually quite crowded, like March. So I really think it's worth the consultation for anyone planning a trip there. The downside is that the site is all in English, but it's very visual, so I think it helps even those who don't speak the language. See the parks capacity calendar here.
The seasons of the year United States are inverted in relation to España, that is, when it's summer here, it's winter there, when it's spring here, it's autumn there – and vice versa. the summer in Orlando It's too hot! If you go at that time, prepare to be hot! In addition, at this time it rains a lot, but most of the time it is rain showers that soon pass.
The winter there is not so harsh. It is not possible to enjoy the water toys and the water parks are closed, but it is not the cold that is in other regions of the United States at that time. Overall, it's a winter more like ours, and one that usually doesn't interfere much with the fun. Unlike summer, it doesn't usually rain much at this time. In spring and autumn, temperatures are milder.
It is worth remembering that in Florida there may be hurricanes from early June to late November. This is the hurricane season in the Atlantic, being considered the peak of the months of August to October. We were even there this year when Hurricane Mathew hit Florida! Although nothing bad happened in Orlando (thankfully!), interfered with our schedule, as we had to stay a day and a half without leaving the hotel.
There are several ticket options, with different combinations of number of parks and days. See below for the options currently available on the Universal website, with dates of use and prices. As the new water park, Volcano Bay, opens only on June 1, 2017, the option that includes this park is valid from this date.
Both the Explorer and Park-to-Park options allow entry to more than one park on the same day. The difference between them is that Explorer allows you to go to the parks as many times as you want within a period of 14 days after the first use, and Park-to-Park allows you to go only the amount of days you are buying (2 or 3 days).
The ticket valid for one day only, and tickets for more days, but allowing only one park per day, are sold only on the English version of the Universal.
In addition to Universal's website, tickets can also be purchased at the park's box office, but they do not have the same options as the online version and cost around $20,00 more. Tickets are also sold by travel agencies and several other websites.
In addition to the official website, we recommend purchasing through the Visit Orlando website, which is the official tourism association of Orlando, because in addition to insurance, tickets are sold for lower prices than Universal itself.
They separate tickets by “Base Ticket” (one park per day) and “Park to Park Ticket” (two parks per day). Although the site has a Portuguese version, the ticket purchase page is only in English. However, it is possible to contact them by email and phone, and they have professionals who speak Portuguese!
In order to avoid piracy, sale of used tickets and exchange of tickets between people of the same group or family, the Universal links each person's fingerprint with the ticket presented at the entrance to the parks, so that it can only be used by them. This makes it impossible for two different people to use a two-day ticket each day, and for two different people on the same day (since you can leave and enter the park as many times as you like during the day). That is, they are individual and non-transferable.
We went to Universal's parks for two days, one at the invitation of Universal itself, and the other at the invitation of Visit Orlando, the official tourism association of Orlando.
O Universal express is nothing more than a ticket that gives you access to a special line, much faster than the conventional one, especially when the parks are full. It's the famous "skip queue".
It is sold separately from the park ticket, meaning you need to buy the regular ticket and then buy the Universal Express.
Stay tuned because there are two versions:
– the Universal Express Pass, which allows you to use the special line once per ride, in one or both parks, depending on which one you bought;
– and Universal Express Unlimited, which allows you to use the special queue as many times as you want, also with the option of one or both parks.
The price varies according to the time of year, number of days, parks and even if you want to use it more than once in a toy. Therefore, before closing the tickets, research the value of the Universal express, as it may be that buying a combo (park ticket + Universal Express) is advantageous. Click here to see price and date options.
The two versions of Universal express are valid for almost all attractions of the two parks, however they have some exceptions, and unfortunately the main attractions of Harry Potter are part of them. See below for attractions that do not accept Universal Express.
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Ollivander’s Wand Shop
- The Hogwarts Express
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
Islands of Adventure:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Ollivander’s Wand Shop
- The Hogwarts Express
- Pteranodon Flyers
Universal Express tickets are sold only by Universal, and can be purchased through the website, at the parks ticket office, or at kiosks inside the parks. The sale through the website requires scheduling the exact date to be used, and is only done by credit card, that is, there is the IOF surcharge.
The sale in the park has the advantage of being able to analyze the need for the ticket before purchasing it, but it also has the disadvantage of being sold out, since tickets are limited per day.
The advance sale (through the website) is only worth it in high season, and if you are willing to pay the amount charged (which at this time should be high), or if you only have one day to do both parks, and don't want to have to leave anything out. Otherwise, the best option is to leave it to buy inside the park, after checking if the lines are too long and if it's really worth it.
We won the Universal Express and used it on the two days we were at the parks. The lines are actually much faster, we think it's great! However, as we went in the low season, we would not have bought it, as it was not necessary, since the common lines were not very long. In low season it is worth it for those who have only one day to do both parks, in my opinion.
To use it is very simple, it is not necessary to schedule, as in FastPass from Disney, you just need to join the queue indicated with the symbol of Universal express, and there a park employee will beep the barcode on your ticket.
Can you do both parks on the same day?
Yes, but we advise you to do this only if you don't have enough time on your trip to do one park a day. This is because the parks are full of super interesting attractions, and to do them all calmly and enjoy the parks well, it is necessary to reserve a day for each.
This option is more viable for those who go in low season, where the queue times are shorter, or for those who go in high season without many days for the parks, but in this case we advise you to pay a little more to buy the Universal Express.
We went two days, and did a little bit of both parks each day. That's because I'm a fan of Harry Potter and wanted to ride the Hogwarts Express, the train that goes from one park to the other. Remembering that for this it is necessary to have a park-to-park ticket!
What are the advantages of the parks for those staying at Universal hotels?
Within the Universal complex there are five hotels, all of them themed, with different values, being the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel the most luxurious, inspired by Italy, and the Cabana Bay the most economical.
Those staying at Universal hotels have some benefits at the parks, such as:
- Being able to enter one of the parks an hour early and have access to selected attractions. The selected attractions Islands of adventure são: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey; Dragon Challenge e Flight of the Hippogriff. E as do Universal Studios: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. To see the calendar with early entry times, click here.
- Free transport to the parks, by bus and water taxi (the latter with the exception of Cabana Bay);
- Free delivery of products purchased in the parks and throughout the complex at the hotel;
To see the full list of benefits specifications for each hotel click here.
Universal parking is the same for both parks and for those who go to CityWalk. You can't buy it in advance, and it's even charged to those staying at Universal hotels.
The value is per night, with Valet $40,00, preferred seats (closest to the entrance) $30,00 and other seats $20,00. We stopped at the $20,00 one and got a good seat as the park wasn't too crowded.
Anyway, I found the parking there great because it's covered (the car doesn't get that hot), and it's like those in a mall that has several floors, so it's not that extensive and you end up not stopping that far.
The identification of parking spaces is done by numbers and characters, and it is very easy to find later, as it is very well signposted. But it's worth taking a photo of the ID where you left off, because at the end of a long day, chances are you'll forget!
Os Universal parks allow entry with food, with restrictions on glass packaging and sharp objects. You can't heat anything there and there's no place to refrigerate it, so basically you can take it with you: cookies, ready-to-eat snacks, snacks that don't need to be heated and can withstand the heat, or that are carried in thermal bags, fruits and other options that fit. in these restrictions.
It is allowed to enter with water, but there are plenty of drinking fountains in the parks. It's worth taking it by the bottle, if you prefer to fill it up throughout the day, but for those who don't want to carry extra weight, it's not necessary and won't even need to keep buying.
We took a backpack with water, snacks, fruits and nuts to eat throughout the day, to save money, as we thought eating in the park would be too expensive. The first thing we saw were the drinking fountains, so as soon as we ran out of water we threw the bottle away, as we didn't want any extra weight.
A little later, when we were in the area of Harry Potter, we saw some “stalls” that sold fresh and cut fruit, for $4,00, the same price as we saw cut fruit at Walmart! In other words, in the end we think it wasn't worth it.
And because they are parks with several roller coasters and other toys that swing a lot, we ended up staying only in our snacks, fruits and snacks, so as not to weigh too much. Because of that we ended up not eating at any of the restaurants there, so I can't say about their prices.
Universal does offer some meal plans, which you can see more information here.
Lockers / Cabinets
The roller coasters and some other rides don't allow you to take anything with you (nothing at all), but these rides have lockers available near the entrance. They are free for a certain time (varies according to the queue time of each attraction) and after that time they have a price list.
They are very simple to use, safe (the lockers are locked and released by registering your fingerprint) and there is always a park employee there to help those in need.
When you arrive, take a map of the park, which is right at the entrance. It is available in several languages, including Portuguese. The map is very complete, it shows where each attraction is, restaurants, bathrooms, where to take pictures with the characters, it also has general information about the park and safety.
The attractions have a small description each, and are signposted with symbols that indicate the minimum height, if Universal Express is accepted, if there are any contraindications, etc. To see the show schedule you need to get the map in English.
Universal FL App
We also use the park's official app, which shows all the attractions on the map, and you can filter them by type: riders (roller coasters), 3D (simulators), water (water toys) and kids (children's attractions). By clicking on any of them, you can see the queue waiting time, information about the attraction and even how to get there.
The map shows where you are, and traces the path to your chosen destination, with explanations and photos! It's very simple to move and can be very useful, especially when the park is full and you want to see the waiting time of an attraction that is far from you. The wait time is also shown at the entrance to each attraction.
As both parks have free wifi, it is not necessary to have any paid internet plan working to use the app, which is available for Android and IOS.
Site da Universal
I recommended above the maps and the app to use inside the parks. But for travel planning, that is, to use it beforehand, the universal website is very good!
They have the Portuguese version, which helps a lot for those who don't speak English, but the most complete, which has a lot that you can't find on the Portuguese page, is the original version, in English.
As you can see, I put a lot of link to their site in this post, and if you explore the site, you will find a lot of information. It's really worth going there while you're programming, or if you want to look for some specific information that you haven't found elsewhere.
Days and times: The parks are open every day of the year, with different opening hours, normally opening at 9 am, and closing between 18 pm and 23 pm. To see the full operating calendar click here.
So, did you like it? I hope these tips and information can help in planning a trip for those who want to visit the Universal parks!
Share your tips with us in the comments too!
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