The Ultimate Guide for Universal Orlando Resort

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When it comes to planning a vacation, many famous ones would come to mind, but Universal Orlando Resort is one of the top holiday destination in the whole world.

What comes to mind for many tourists whenever they visit Universal Orlando Resort is movies, from old movies of yesteryears to the blockbusters of today. But like every other first-timer who wants to visit Universal Orlando Resort in Florida would ask themselves, “What’s there to see? What places can I go in there? Any special offers I can get?”

Universal Orlando Resort map

Universal Orlando Resort, one of the most popular holiday destination in the entire world, has made a reputation for the sheer and growing amount of attractions it introduces to its visitors each year. While not as widespread as Disney Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort is still a tourist destination with plenty of history to it. But for many who are not familiar with what this amazing resort has to offer and how it got to this point, let’s first learn about its history in order to better understand the events throughout its lifespan that made Universal Orlando Resort to what it is today.

A Brief History

The theme park first opened in 1990 as an extension to Universal Studios of Florida, of sorts. This was a sort of a move made by Universal to compete with Disney’s MGM Studios. Not long after its opening, it grew to become quite the popular theme park at the time, and its popularity was greatly boosted thanks to its ties to the film industry, such as King Kong.

To sum things up, here’s a quick timeline of events that developed Universal Orlando Resort into the theme park of today:

  • In the year 1994, plans were already discussed about an expansion of the resort into a multi-day vacation destination in order to attract more visitors and to create a resort for the park. With the popularity of resorts of the time, would you want to spend the weekend at Universal Studios? Then this is one of the big reasons why. And by mid-1995, construction had begun on the new park, which was revealed to be called the Islands of Adventure. Two years later on May of 1997, the Islands of Adventure Preview Center opened, which replaced the aging Screen Test Home Video Adventure.
  • The mid-90s saw several new attractions being built and opened at Universal Studios Florida, including Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone, which opened in 1998, followed by Men in Black: Alien Attack and Animal Actors, which replaced Animal Planet Live.
  • The Islands of Adventure was finally completed on May 28, 1999, opened to the general public after few years of construction. Islands of Adventure has six islands, all with different themes for visitors to explore and discover, including the Seuss Landing, The Lost Continent, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and, for all fans of superheroes and Marvel Comics, the Marvel Super Hero Island. Unfortunately, the overall reception was rather mediocre with an attendance of below than average. As a result, several attractions were closed shortly, including the Island Skipper Tours.
  • However, as time went along, the resort also opened some new venues, such as the CityWalk Orlando, which is basically Florida’s version of Universal CityWalk from Universal Studios Hollywood. But the only difference is the venues and the overall design. In September of 1999, Universal Studios Florida also opened the resort’s first onsite hotel, called the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Originally Portofino Bay Hotel, a Loews Hotel. It was Loews Hotel that operated and partially owned it, but Universal and The Blackstone Group also partially owned the hotel. Both CityWalk and the hotel were branded as Universal Studios Escape as a result but was quickly changed to Universal Orlando Resort.
  • The popular Hard Rock Hotel opened as Universal Orlando’s second onsite hotel in December of 2000, however, the Hard Rock Hotel is still owned by Loews Hotels. On the other hand, like the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, it’s not affiliated with the owners of The Hard Rock Cafe. And by next year in 2001, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort finally opened.
  • Meanwhile, two parking garages were constructed to further expand its parking area, and the popular Wet ‘n Wild Orlando Waterpark was eventually acquired to the surprise and rejoice of many who would want to spend the summer further at Universal Studios Florida. Further developments were made in 2010 when the newest island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, opened its doors in December, much to the delight of Harry Potter fans all over the country and the world.
  • Lastly, the Blackstone Group sold its stake in Universal Orlando in early 2011.

Overview of Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Resort consists of two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure), a water park (Volcano Bay), a nightlife entertainment center (Universal CityWalk Orlando), and five hotel resorts (Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort).

Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida is split into many different lands, each with its own theme, all of which are based on the famous films. These areas are Hollywood, New York, Production Central, San Francisco, London (Diagon Alley), Springfield, World Expo, and Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone. From machine restaurants to themed shops, and possibly even some special events with their own various themes to entertain and surprise visitors and tourists. Here’s a fun fact …

Did you know that the very first major attraction when the park first opened is a ride that let visitors experience the feel of being on an actual movie set?  

This tour lets visitors experience what everything is like on the set of their favorite movie, TV show, and music videos.

Universal Studios Florida

Islands of Adventure

The iconic large tower at the main entrance is the landmark of the second theme park at Universal Orlando Resort.  It combines a handful of lands based on popular properties — Jurassic Park, Marvel Comics,  Port of Entry, Dr. Seuss famous children’s books, King Kong, the Lost Continent and Harry Potter. If you’re a stickler for careful design and consistent theming in your theme parks, the awkward jumble of Islands of Adventure might stress you out.

There are many different rides and attractions you can choose to go, and there are a LOT. So we’re going through everything, so you can see the sheer amount that is available for you.

Islands of Adventure

Volcano Bay

Situated right next to the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the third theme park and the only waterpark in Universal Orlando Resort have just opened to the public last May 2017. The theme was inspired by the lifestyle of the fabled Waturi islanders who lived in the Pacific isle for many centuries with its mantra:

“Water is Life. Life is Joy.”

The Waturi believed that by spending every second doing the things you love, with the people you love, it is possible to make happiness last indefinitely.

While Volcano Bay’s rides may be water-based, every single detail of the park was designed to keep up with what establishes Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure as Universal’s premiere theme parks.  Its landmark is the Krakatau Volcano with Waturi Beach and its wave pool. It is one massive, daring water adventures, complete with a park-wide mythology, a gorgeous aesthetic, and truly thrilling rides. With four areas and 18 attractions, there is surely a lot of fun and excitement for everyone.

Volcano Bay

Universal CityWalk

This is the epicenter of nightlife and entertainment in Universal Orlando Resort. Besides the main attractions themselves, there are also many different restaurants and shops where visitors can kick back and relax or buy anything that catches their fancy. You’ll find them all at the Universal CityWalk Orlando because guests who arrive here are greeted to various shops, restaurants where you can dine, nightclubs for the guests who love the nightlife, an AMC movie theater for the movie buffs who would love to sit down and watch a movie. For music fans, especially those who are big fans of Blue Man Group, you’ll find them here performing shows for guests.

Interested in hitting Universal Orlando Resort at night and want to hit the club? Here are some notable venues you will see when you walk through CityWalk:

  • The Cowfish – Hungry for some sushi? What about a burger? How about both? Then you’re in luck because The Cowfish caters to those who love one or both of them.
  • Hard Rock Cafe – A restaurant known for its rock and roll theme, each restaurant walls decorated with memorabilia.
  • Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville – For fans of Jimmy Buffet who want a simple and casual dining experience, this one’s for you.
  • Emeril’s – Ever wanted to try the food of New Orleans? This free standing two-story restaurant features a high-energy, creative environment for fine food and wine lovers, complemented by its soaring thirty-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, stone walls, and iron staircase.
  • Bubba Gump Shrimp Company – If you’re familiar with the 1994 film Forrest Gump, then you’ll know what this restaurant is and what they serve. For those who are unaware, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is a world-famous restaurant that first appeared in the movie, named after the characters Bubba and Forrest Gump, which then became an actual restaurant in 1996.
  • Lone Palm Airport – If you’re ever up for some drinks, then the Lone Palm Airport Tiki bar can make you feel like you’re on an island thanks to its unique ambiance, in particular, Jimmy Buffet’s very own seaplane, the Hemisphere Dancer.
  • Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck – For The Simpsons fans everywhere, enjoy some of the great Mexican tacos from the man who dresses like a bumblebee, Bumblebee Man!
  • Leaky Cauldron – A great dining experience for Harry Potter fans. First appearing in Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban, you’ll discover such menu items as Bangers and Mash, Fisherman’s Pie, Toad in the Hole, Ploughman’s Platter, and much more! As for meals fitting for your kids, the menu also offers Fish And Chips, Macaroni Cheese, and Cottage Mini Pie.
  • Mythos Restaurant – Features a mix of Mediterranean, Asian, and American cuisine, diners can enjoy their meals in this restaurant that would make you feel as if you’re having a banquet in a mythical world, with its distinctive rock formations and ancient carved figures.
  • Bice Restaurante – This restaurant is just one of many Bice restaurants located all over the world since 1926 in Milan. What started out as a simple home cook turned into a booming franchise that even you can get to experience at Universal Studios Orlando!
  • Vivo Italian Kitchen – Enjoy a hearty Italian meal as chefs prepare make delicious dishes using fresh bread, sauces, mozzarella, pasta and much more, all before your very eyes, and your tongue will water from its delicious presentation.
  • Richter’s Burger Co. – Hungry for some burgers so badly that your grumbling stomach feels like an earthquake? Quell that hunger with meals so good, that it’ll be off-the-scale. The restaurant may be a small two-story building, but once you sink your teeth into their San Andreas Sandwiches and The Aftershock Burger, you’ll be knocked right off your feet due to their savoriness!
  • The Fountain of Fair Fortune – Named after a fable in The Tales of Beedle the Bard (a collection of stories for the many young wizards and witches in the world of Harry Potter), what this restaurant offers are drinks for all ages (from alcoholic for the adults and non-acoholic for the kids). You can enjoy some of their unique beverages such as the Butterbeer, Frozen Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice, Gillywater, and Pumpkin Fizz.
  • Finnegan’s Bar and Grill – Get into that Irish spirit as you step into this establishment, and immediately you’ll find it such savory dishes such as Bangers and Mash, Shepherd’s Pie, and Guinness Beef Stew. You’ll also find some classic favorites like burgers and steaks.
  • Lard Lad Donuts – Ever wonder what those donuts from The Simpsons taste like and why do Homer and so many others love them? Now here is the perfect moment for you to discover for yourself why Springfield’s citizens simply love its giant pink-iced donuts, as well the Brain Freezin’ D’oh-Nut Sundaes, its wide selection of delicious cupcakes, and so much more!

Package Tour

Getting to Universal Orlando Resort is one thing, preparing is a whole another matter that one must constantly and carefully plan your trip. Vacation packages are a neat way to not only get your money’s worth on signing up for the visit, but you’ll get some other additional features, as well. Below are the packages available for you!

  • The Splash, Stay and Play Vacation Package – Costs $99 per adult and per night, this package lets you take your vacation to the next level at Universal’s Volcano Bay, one of the best water parks Universal can offer every single person in this package. You can purchase this between now and December 14.
  • Halloween Horror Nights – Want to make your stay at Universal a little bit on the spooky side? This package offers on-site hotel accommodations, daytime admission to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, all for a price of $229 per adult, per night.
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Exclusive Vacation Package – Same benefits as above, but you’ll be granted early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Costs $155 per adult, per night.
  • Create your own vacation package – Now you’ve browsed through these packages and you say to yourself, “These only cover so much. Why can’t I choose which ride or attraction will I benefit from?” With this customizable package, you can choose which hotel you can stay in, and which theme park you can get an early admission in, and lots more! You can also get a Park-to-Park ticket that you can use to board the Hogwarts Express
  • American Express Exclusive Star-Worthy Vacation Package

And you might  be asking yourself, “What’s the deal with these packages?” A vacation package gives you more benefits than just paying the standard fare.

  1. It provides the best prices guaranteed.
  2. You get to be admitted into the park an hour early. Universal Orlando gets hundreds and thousands of visitors each day, and lines pile up very quickly. And a vacation package helps you get in a lot easier, provided you also arrive early.
  3. Because vacation packages are all-in-one, this makes it much easier for your vacation plan to run smoothly.
  4. And lastly, you get to choose which hotel you want to go. You get a choice of Preferred or Premier accommodations at on-site or Universal partner hotels.

Hotel and Accommodation

Hotel and Accommodation

  1. Universal’s Aventura Hotel – A new and upcoming hotel that will open in August 2018, this hotel boasts a view of all three of Universal Orlando’s theme parks, essentially making it a great starting point for guests. With 600 rooms to accommodate guests, its spacious open areas make it an ideal hotel for many to spend a lot of time with friends and families in.
  2. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort – Retro lovers will feel at home in this excellently-designed hotel that makes you feel like you’re in the 50s or 60s again! It features two large swimming pools, a river, and even a bowling alley!
  3. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort – Give yourself a vacation on a tropical island without even having to go to an island itself. You’ll find beautiful blue waterfalls that cascade over lush grounds, with passageways and pools, with dining options that feature a Caribbean theme that further complement your stay.
  4. Loews Royal Pacific Resort – Experience the South Seas with its own set of complementing features and amenities, such as a lagoon-esque pool which is surrounded by a white sandy beach, complete with swaying palm trees. If you’re truly up for an island escape, just stay the night at Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
  5. Hard Rock Hotel – Tired of the same old hotel with the standard island theme? Why not go for something more on the side of rock and roll? If you’re familiar with the Hard Rock Cafe, then you’ll also make yourself familiar with the Hard Rock Hotel. The mission-themed designs inspired by the classic rock genre will guarantee to electrify your vacation experience!
  6. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel – Italy is known for having its own unique style and feel when it comes to vacation spots, and the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel will make you feel like you’re in Italy, enjoying the sweet life of the Italian life, without having to even travel to Italy itself!

Tickets

Sometimes when waiting to get on a ride or attraction, they would be filled to capacity real quickly. And if something reaches capacity, admissions will be temporarily suspended until there’s more room again.

  • Multi-Day Tickets – To maximize the enjoyment of your stay, you can visit all three Universal Orlando Parks with a 3-Park Ticket. 2-Park Tickets allow access to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure each day. 1-Park tickets allow access to 1 Park per day.
  • Single-Day Tickets – For a family experience of epic proportions in a single day, visit Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal’s Volcano Bay theme parks with either Park-to-Park Ticket or 3-Park Ticket.
  • Universal’s Volcano Bay – Universal Orlando Resort’s water theme park is a tropical paradise with amazing thrills, relaxing indulgence and no standing in long lines.

Sounds great! What else can I get?

For frequent visitors, why limit yourself for just a few days when you can come back as often as you want? Now, many would be concerned with the idea of repeatedly paying the fee for the tickets just to get in more often, but you don’t have to do that because that’s what the Seasonal or Annual Pass is for!

With a Seasonal and Annual pass, you’ll also be able to get special discounts and benefits such as free admissions to concerts. If there is one way to truly experience Universal Studios, then an annual pass is the way to go. But you can’t get these in the way you can expect. You can obtain one using the FlexPlay option, where you can pay the initial down payment, after which you can pay a small fee each month for a year. This way, you don’t have to pay too much for an Annual Pass. Unfortunately, this payment method is not available for seasonal passes. But for pass holders, they get the following benefits:

  • Access To Universal Orlando Resort Theme Parks
  • Discounts At On-Site Resort Hotels
  • Admission To Select Concerts And Events

When you pay for a 3-Park or a 2-Park Annual or Seasonal Pass, you can get the following:

Dining Reservations

Many restaurants get filled up very quickly, which results in waiting lines, some lines are short while many are long. When it’s peak season for Universal Orlando Resort, these lines get super long super fast. And luckily, many of these restaurants feature reservations that people can book in advance. So that you’ll never have to wait for a very lengthy amount of time for just a meal. The restaurants below all feature reservations:

  • Emeril’s
  • Hard Rock Cafe
  • Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville
  • VIVO Italian Kitchen
  • Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food
  • Bob Marley – A Tribute to Freedom
  • Pat O’ Brien’s
  • Lombardi’s Seafood Grille
  • Finnegan’s Bar & Grill
  • Mythos Restaurant
  • Confisco Grille
  • Mama Della’s Ristorante
  • Trattoria del Porto
  • Bice Ristorante
  • The Kitchen
  • The Palm
  • Islands Dining Room
  • Jake’s American Bar
  • Emeril’s Tchoup Chop
  • Wantilan Luau
  • Galaxy Bowl Restaurant

Peak and Off-Peak Seasons

As a popular place to go during holiday or even regular days, Universal Orlando Resort is always busy all year round.  However, it is even more crowded during spring break, from late May to Labor Day, and during the winter holidays.

Off-peak times include the week after Labor Day until just before Thanksgiving, before spring break, and the weeks following Thanksgiving until before the Christmas holidays

Insider Tips

With so much information available, it’s understandable that not many who are eager to spend a day in Universal are all familiar with traveling. There are those who are new to the online process of registration and booking. And so without further ado, here are some tips to ensure that your trip will be 100% smooth and problem-free.

  1. With almost everything done online due to how fast and easy it is to get everything settled, it’s best to simply buy your tickets online. In addition, you can save a lot of time from lining up at the gate and paying the fee out-of-pocket when you purchase certain 2 or 3-day tickets and passes from the Universal Studios website.
  2. Speaking of multi-day tickets, don’t rush everything. With a multi-day ticket, you can spend as much time as you want in a single day without worrying about running out of time. And with many different theme parks and attractions available in Universal Orlando, you’ll have all the time you need to spend the remainder of your vacation!
  3. When buying a ticket, be sure to get the Park-to-Park Access ticket. Because with it, you can make the most out of a single day. Park-to-Park ticket grants you full access to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure (including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley). It can even grant you access to the Hogwarts Express to travel between the two.
  4. For residents of Florida, you can save up to $50 by using your Florida ID when purchasing a multi-day ticket online. Just show your ID and the proof of purchase at the park ticket window, and you’re all set!

What to bring?

So once your ticket or pass has been bought, you’re all ready to go. But before you can leave, you need to make some preparations first by packing the necessary items:

  • Proper weather clothes – In Florida, the weather can be unpredictable, cold can become hot, a clear sunny day can suddenly turn into heavy rains, you’re never too sure what the day’s weather is going to be like. It’s always helpful to check the weather forecast, but it’s even more important to bring along some extra clothing. Sure, the day may start out warm but you’ll never know when it might suddenly turn into a light shower or a cold windy day later on. Even during the winter, there are days when it might suddenly not get cold. So extra clothes are a plus.
  • Sunscreen – Sunburns are a pain, especially if you’re out swimming, or even walking around under the intense sunlight. And in Florida, which is sometimes known as the Sunshine State, this is common. So during the hotter seasons like summer, whether or not you’re going to swim, it’s good to apply sunscreen all over your body before you head out.
  • Hats and sunglasses – Another good alternate solution if you don’t have any sunscreen. A hat can protect your head from the sunlight and the heat, and sunglasses (or shades) can help block the sun from your eyes. Just do remember that many attractions tend to discourage people from wearing them.
  • Swimwear – Universal Studios Orlando has many resorts, all of which have their own pools and water parks. So naturally, you would be bringing one if you want to take a dip at a pool or spend the day at a water park. Some guests would prefer to wear them under their regular clothing in case they get soaked in one of the many attractions and rides that involve water.
  • Shoes – Universal Studios Florida is a big place, a VERY big place, with more expansions being planned with each year, and more buildings, attractions, and rides being completed to meet a growing demand. So this means that you would end up going from one place to another, whether it’s running or walking. Wearing flip-flops and heeled shoes will make you end up with very sore feet very quickly.
  • Dress clothes – Believe it or not, certain restaurants and nightclubs only allow in guests who are wearing dress clothes. Be sure to research on which establishment has a dress code, and bring them with you when staying at Universal Studios.
  • Backpacks and shoulder bags – There’s no doubt that you’ll be carrying some essential items as you walk around the park, such as cameras, money, etc., so it’s a must to carry one with you at all times so that you don’t have to store things in your pockets at all times. Though be advised that security will inspect your bag and that certain rides provide secure lockers to store bags and other important belongings before you get on. But for extremely valuable items like jewelry, it’s best to leave them at home or in a hotel safe.
  • Medication – You’ll never know what might happen during your stay. For example, Florida’s changing weather can leave you with either a nasty cold or a headache, so bringing along some cold medication or some painkillers will help you out a lot. But for prescribed medicine, make sure you have it with you at all times, whether it’s in your pocket or in your bag (a bag definitely helps). If not, then you can save the trouble of leaving early by heading to the nearest Health Services located in each park for medical assistance

Always Remember

While Universal Orlando Resort provides a varied dining experience for guests and tourists through its restaurants and concession stands that are dotted all over the park, it’s perfectly understandable that you want to bring some snacks into the park, either as an emergency or for a quick pick-me-up after several hours of walking around.

But please be advised that there are certain food items you can bring with you:

Acceptable items:

  • Bottled water
  • Small snacks that do not require heating.
  • Any food required for medical purposes and medically indicated nutritional supplements
  • Any food required for special dietary needs
  • Baby food/baby formula
  • Soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5″ wide x 6″ high x 6″ deep

Prohibited items:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Picnic lunches
  • Food that requires heating or refrigeration
  • Glass containers
  • Hard-sided coolers
  • Soft-sided coolers larger than 8.5 inches wide x 6 inches high x 6 inches deep
  • Suitcases and bags with wheels
  • Folding chairs
  • Clothing with offensive language or content
  • Clothing that represents someone as emergency personnel
  • Weapons of any kind

Please be advised that all bags and personal items are subject to inspection by security personnel.

So, there you have it!!! While not everything may be covered due to how much Universal Orlando Resort can grow yearly, what matters is that the basics are all covered. Universal Orlando is a large place to explore, has many hotels for you to stay for the night, and that you need to be very well prepared in order to fully enjoy everything the park has to offer.

 

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