Your Guide to Universal Orlando
Whether you’re visiting Orlando with kids, family, friends or your other half, Universal is a theme park with an attraction for every age. No matter what your popular culture references are, from E.T. to Despicable Me, Universal excels at staying relevant while tapping into your nostalgia.
The park itself is split into four sections:
- Universal Studios Florida
- Islands of Adventure
- Volcano Bay
- City Walk
Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios was a functioning film studio lot so you feel like you’re in the heart of filmmaking. The theme of each area is carried through on the streets so you’re fully immersed in the experience. The Studios Park is divided into 8 zones:
- Production Central
- New York City
- San Fransico
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley
- World Expo
- Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone
Some of the films that feature include Men in Black, E.T., Despicable Me, The Mummy and Fast & Furious, which only opened this year.
If you’re not a fan of rollercoasters, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Universal Studios between state-of-the-art 3D simulator rides featuring The Simpsons and, while Jimmy Fallon may not be as famous here in Ireland as he is Stateside, DO NOT miss Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon, this state of the art 3D motion-simulator races you through, below and above New York City is definitely worth the ride!
Islands of Adventure
The Islands of Adventure is themed after exploration, the supernatural and the downright magical. It consists of seven islands:
- Marvel Super Hero Island
- Toon Lagoon
- Skull Island
- Wizard World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade
- Jurassic Park
- The Lost Continent
- Seuss Landing
If you’re a thrillseeker, The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall are a must! If you like a splash at the end of your rollercoaster, you should try Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges and the Jurassic Park River Adventure. If you’re there with small kids, Suess Landing is the place to go with whimsical and fantastical rides themed after Dr Seuss’ best-loved books like ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’ and ‘The Cat in the Hat’.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is spread across the two parks above with Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle in Islands of Adventure. Inconvenient that it’s separated across two of the parks? Not in the slightest because you can get the Hogwarts Express between them. It even crosses the iconic bridge from the films.
Any Harry Potter fan will be absolutely mesmerised by the experience as they’ll feel like they’re with Harry, Ron and Hermione on their adventures. You can grab a Butterbeer and a bite in the Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron, escape from Gringotts vaults, be matched with your perfect wand in Ollivanders, soar above Hogwarts and more!
Volcano Bay, even though it has 18 attractions, is an oasis of calm in Universal. It has lush tropical plants that make you feel like you’re in paradise.
Whether you want to experience all the adrenaline rushes of the slides, laze on their winding rivers or sip a cocktail while people watching from your lounger, Volcano Bay has something everyone.
It has been designed to make sure that you get to make the most of every second you’re there. Their virtual queuing system means you don’t have to spend half your day standing in a line. The TapuTapu wearable not only lets you queue stress-free, but you can also use it to make purchases, take photos, access lockers and trigger automatic photos on some attractions.
Slides you’ve got to try are:
- Ko’okiri Body Plunge
- Ohno and Phyah Drop Slides
- Krakatau Aqua Coaster
CityWalk is the entertainment hub of Universal Orlando. Open until 2am and filled with restaurants and bars with music trickling onto the streets, it’s the place to be once you’ve finished exploring the three parks.
You can visit the world’s largest Hard Rock Cafe, play two zany 50s B-movie themed courses of mini golf or go to the cinema.
If you just want to relax with some food and drinks, you can
- Try mouthwatering Mexican dishes at Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food
- Try a sushi burger at The Cowfish
- Try some warm chocolate almond bread with salted caramel butter at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen™
Universal Orlando Hotels
Universal Orlando has a fantastic range of hotels from value to premier options so there’s something for every budget. Staying in one of their hotels comes with a range of benefits like:
- Early access to Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Volcano Bay
- Complimentary transport to the Parks and CityWalk
- Resort-wide charging privileges with your room key
- Delivery of purchases to your hotel
- Complimentary club-to-club access for CityWalk venues
Surfside and Dockside Inn & Suites
Surfside will be a new hotel outside of the park launching summer 2019 and Dockside, its sister hotel, in summer 2020. They will be fantastic options for those who want to do Universal but don’t want accommodation to use up their budget. Rooms will be spacious and beach-themed with pastel colours and plenty of natural light. The Family Suites will have two bedrooms, a full kitchenette, a picnic table for meals and separate vanity and bath areas. Free shuttle buses will run between the hotel and the park so you’re only minutes from the action.
Aventura Hotel is the newest hotel in Universal. It’s sleek and modern with tablet-controlled rooms and a gorgeous rooftop bar offerings views of the entire park. If you’re going to Volcano Bay, the Aventura is located right at the entrance to the waterpark and is only a 15minute walk or quick shuttle bus to Universal Studios, the furthest area in the park.
Cabana Bay is retro, vibrant and fun. It’s themed after the beach resorts of the 1950s and 1960s. This is an ideal choice for families with its family suites that include a kitchenette, larger bathrooms and the ability to sleep up to 6. It’s also a great place to relax and take a break from the parks as it has two large pools and its own lazy river. If Volcano Bay is the focus of your stay, Cabana Bay is the perfect place to stay as it has its own entrance into the park.
Sapphire Falls & Royal Pacific Hotels
Sapphire Falls (left) has a Caribbean vibe with waterfalls and lush greenery. The rooms are decorated with landmarks of the islands. Its Caribbean Carnaval makes the islands of the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamacia, Barbados and Trinidad come alive in Universal with authentic food, song and dance.
Royal Pacific (right) has a South-Pacific theme with a gorgeous white sand beach and vibrant rooms decorated with flowers from the islands. Don’t miss their weekly Wantilan Lau where you can enjoy a night of Hawaiian fun from the exotic fire dancers to pit-roasted pig and all-you-can-eat deliciousness.
With both hotels, you can get a relaxing water taxi to Islands of Adventure, CityWalk and Universal Studios.
Hard Rock Hotel
Hard Rock Hotel is a perfect choice for couples who are looking for a lively atmosphere. Music is pumped through the pools, rock memorabilia from Elvis’ pyjamas to Jimi Hendrix’s rocking horse decorate the walls and live bands play in the reception. You can get access to tracks® (celebrity-curated playlists for your stay), picks® (a menu of 20 Fender guitars that can be delivered to your room) and wax® (a Crossley turntable and access to 10 records to enjoy). It’s the hotel to stay in for music lovers.
Portofino Bay Hotel was a vision of Martin Scorsese who was asked to theme a hotel for Universal but instead wanted a replica of the Italian town, Portofino. Once you step off the bus or water taxi into Portofino, you’ll automatically feel like you’re in Italy. Inside the hotel, the rooms are super spacious with an elegant classic Italian design.
If you decide to stay in the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel or Portofino Bay, you’ll receive a complimentary Universal Express Unlimited Pass.
Our Top Tips for Universal Orlando
- Go in the off-peak season when it’s cooler – Early April-End of May + September onwards (excluding Halloween)
- Only opt for the Express Pass to skip the queues depending on the time of year you are travelling, queues don’t get too busy in off-peak season
- Don’t add on food packages as there’s so much choice throughout the park
- Bring an empty reusable water bottle to fill up in the park
- Wear your comfiest shoes for all the walking and standing
- Do download the Universal Orlando app as it tells you the wait time for each ride
- Take advantage of the Early Entry to do both parts of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Dedicate a full day to each theme park within Universal to fully experience it all
- Buy your theme park tickets before you go as Irish customers get an exclusive ticket for an exclusive price that you won’t get over there