Planning a trip to Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure? This travel guide includes what to bring, where to eat, things to do, and more!
My husband and I vacation at Universal Orlando Resort multiple times each year. There's always something new and exciting.
If you're planning your first Universal trip or haven't visited the parks in a few years, here's what you need to know before you go!
Universal Orlando tips for adults
Of course these tips still apply if you're traveling with children, but keep in mind you may need to pack additional kid-friendly products.
What to bring
Be sure to pack these items for your Universal vacation!
- Shoes: I recommend a pair of good walking shoes, like New Balance sneakers, and comfy sandals, such as Teva's.
- Sunscreen: Coming from a Texan, Florida is HOT. Don't forget to pack sunscreen! I suggest spray sunscreen for easy application throughout the day, as well as a high SPF facial sunscreen.
- Hats: A baseball cap is perfect for park days and this visor is a must-have for pool days!
- Water: You can find free water through the parks, but I highly suggest packing your own refillable water bottle. It's easy to refill at water fountains and soft drink machines.
- Backpack: Small backpacks are great for theme park days, so you can easily and comfortably lug around everything mentioned above plus rain ponchos, an extra pair of socks, bandaids, other first aid products, snacks, portable power bank to charge your phone, and more. Want something smaller? Read all about why I love wearing a fanny pack at Universal.
What to wear
Look at the weather predictions leading up to your trip. I personally prefer to dress for comfort.
I'm most comfortable wearing a t-shirt with bike shorts, athletic shorts, or leggings. Pack layers, in case you need to throw on a jacket in the early morning or late at night.
If you plan to ride water attractions, consider wearing a swimsuit under your clothes. And of course, if you want to visit Volcano Bay, be sure to pack swimwear!
RELATED: Tips for Visiting Volcano Bay
Where to eat
Every time I visit the parks, I'm more and more impressed with their dining options. Offerings range from classic snacks like pretzels and popcorn, quick-service counters for burgers, sandwiches, and beyond, plus full-service restaurants for a more relaxing sit down meal.
RELATED: Eating Vegan at Universal Orlando
Best places to eat at Universal Studios Florida
Due to my food allergies, I'm dairy free and egg free. Typically on vacation, I try to eat mostly vegan and opt for the plant based options.
Below are my top spots for dining at Universal Studios Florida:
- TODAY Cafe: Vegan Sandwich
- Finnegan's: Vegan Sausage Wellington
- Leaky Cauldron: Shepherd's Pasty Pie
- Richter's Burger Co: Plant Based Burger
My husband thoroughly enjoyed this fish & chips at Finnegan's and pastrami sandwich at Today Cafe.
Where to eat at Universal's Islands of Adventure
At both parks I was very pleased with how clear their dietary food guides and menus are.
- Fire Eater’s Grill: Falafel Gyro
- The Burger Digs: Vegan Burger
- Green Eggs & Ham Cafe: Vegan Pizza Tots
- Mythos: Pan-Roasted Salmon
- Three Broomsticks: Mushroom Pie Platter
The only place throughout Universal we got dining reservations was at Mythos. We were able to snag them day of, but if this is a must-eat spot for you, grab them online ahead of time.
My husband's top food picks at IOA include the ahi tuna nachos from Confisco Grille, fish & chips platter from Three Broomsticks, and braised lamb shank from Mythos.
Butterbeer at Universal
As of August 2022, vegan butterbeer is finally available! Just be sure to request your drink without the topping.
For years the butter beer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was not vegan, as the topping contains dairy and cannot be ordered without it due to it being a trademarked drink.
Other festive drinks include pumpkin juice, peachtree fizzing tea, and tongue tying lemon squash!
To wrap up this food section, I wanted to also note that the drink menus at both Finnegan's and Mythos were extensive and the cocktails were delicious!
Things to do
There's so much more to do than ride roller coasters at Universal! Check out other attractions, meet characters, watch shows, and more. Here are my must-do experiences!
With so many incredible rides, it can be hard to know which ones to ride and make a priority. Here are my must-do rides [in order of favorite to least favorite] for each theme park!
Best Islands of Adventure Rides
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong (watch out for the walls!)
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall (you’ve gotta do it once!)
Best Rides at Universal Studios
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Revenge of the Mummy
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Transformers 3D
- Hogwarts Express (requires park to park ticket)
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- E.T. Adventure
- Men In Black Alien Attack
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- The Simpsons Ride
- Fast and Furious - Supercharged
One of my favorite activities to do at Universal is take in all the noises, sounds, and details. Be sure to take a stroll through Sting Alley!
Sting Alley is a hidden gem located in the New York area. The entrance to this unique alleyway can be found on 5th Avenue, Delancey Street, and South Street.
- Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration
- The Bourne Stuntacular
- Horror Make-Up Show
Where to stay
There are several perks to staying at a Universal Orlando Resort Hotel! Hotels range in price depending which tier you're considering. There's options for value, prime value, preferred, and premier.
One of the biggest benefits to staying onsite at Universal is their complimentary transportation to and from hotels and the parks.
My favorite Universal Orlando hotel is Sapphire Falls! The theming is island contemporary, with fabulous dining options, and a water taxi to shuttle you to and from CityWalk.
Read my full Loews Sapphire Falls Resort Review here.
In my opinion, families will enjoy staying at Universal's Endless Summer or Cabana Bay. Aventura Hotel shares an entrance with Sapphire Falls, however it's more moderately priced.
The Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort as well as Portofino Bay offers a more luxurious stay with free Universal Express Unlimited, so guests can skip the regular lines at popular attractions.
Pro tip: If you're staying at Cabana Bay, Aventura, Sapphire Falls, or Royal Pacific Resort, consider taking the Garden Walk pathway to the parks rather than waiting for a shuttle bus or water taxi.
If you're planning on visiting Disney World while you're in town, there are plenty of off-site hotel options in the area. Read my Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort Review here.
Early park admission
Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, as well as Universal's Volcano Bay all offer early admission.
Universal Orlando Resort hotel guests and select passholders can access one of the parks prior to scheduled opening time. Available attractions and times for early park admission vary, so be sure to check the website and app for updates.
In my experience, early park admission allows guests to enter up to 1 hour prior to park opening.
Popular rides to take advantage of riding with low crowds at Universal Studios are Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
Over at Islands of Adventure, head to Hagrid's Magical Creatures Moterbike Adventure and Jurassic World VelociCoaster.
Lastly, if you're heading to Volcano Bay, tap into the Krakatau Aqua Coaster.
How many days do you need to visit?
This is really going to come down to personal preference, your schedule, and how much you're willing to spend on a getaway.
A 3-day itinerary is ideal, especially if you have park-to-park passes.
However, if you want to take it slow and add some downtime to your vacation consider extending your trip a few days. I personally enjoy having at least 4-5 days at Universal.
That way you can soak up all the details, ride your favorite coasters multiple times, enjoy the resort pool, and not have to worry about waking up at the crack of dawn and running around the parks until close.
Are annual passes worth it?
If you plan to visit Universal Orlando Resort theme parks multiple times throughout the year, annual passes can be a good vacation investment.
- Discounts on food and merchandise!
- Access to the Passholder Lounge located in the Hollywood area of Universal Studios.
- Hotel room rate discounts.
- UOAP Passholder Appreciation Days with various benefits such as an exclusive gate entrance, souvenirs, and more!
Getting to and from Universal Orlando
Traveling from the Orlando Airport to Universal Studios is easily done by taking a Lyft or Uber. It costs about $24-$36 depending on the time, date, season, and surge pricing.
If you rent a car, self-parking at hotels start around $15-$28 per vehicle, per night. For that reason, I suggest taking a ride share rather than renting a car.
You've seen CityWalk mentioned a couple times throughout this post. If you're unfamiliar, CityWalk isn't a theme park, however it's an entertaining district at Universal.
It's similar to Downtown Disney or Disney Springs, with shopping, dining, and more! I highly recommend Bob Marley - A Tribute to Freedom for a sit down dinner, Moe's Southwest Grill for a quick grab and go meal, and Voodoo Doughnut for a sweet treat.
Money Saving Tips
- Purchase Universal Orlando tickets in advance.
- Bring a reusable water bottle.
- Pack your own snacks from home!
- Scan the Universal website for discounts.
I hope this guide to visiting Universal Orlando helps you plan your next vacation! Universal trips are always loaded with fun, regardless how you spend your days.
There's plenty to do to fill an entire week of thrills, but it's compact enough to fit it all in during a weekend.
Let me know if I missed one of your favorite spots, share your top planning tips, or what you're looking forward to in the future!
Did you enjoy this post? I would love if you would pin it for later or share with your friends and family on social media if they're looking for fun things to do in Orlando.