ORLANDO, Fla. – Is anyone planning a trip to Universal or considering a vacation to this hot spot?
Editor's note: Our theme park expert, writer Tom Metevia, recently visited Universal Studios Orlando Resort for the first time, so we asked him to share some insight. Here's what he had to say:
This was quite a change, as I am used to visiting the Mouse, but I was looking for a change of pace and perhaps to experience a new thrill.
After my visit, I left knowing so many new things and decided to come up with a quick list of tips that may help someone else. Let's dive in.
1. Skipping the line will cost you, but it's worth it.
If you've ever visited Disney World, then you may know a thing or two about FastPasses, which let you schedule a time to ride an attraction and skip the standby line. Universal has its version of a FastPass called Universal Express. The main difference is, this is not something you will just receive for visiting the park. It's an extra charge. However, do I think it's worth it? Yes. Without a doubt, yes.
The ticket I was given had unlimited Express privileges, which meant I could bypass the line as many times as I wanted for almost any ride in the two parks. I hate to say it, but I was definitely spoiled. I decided to wait in a standby line for some rides, so I could look at the complete queue. This is when I knew Express was definitely worth it. Unlike Disney, Universal Express will let you bypass most, if not all the line, compared with FastPass, where you will skip portions of the line then merge into the standby line.
2. Get the right ticket.
Universal Studios has two separate theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. These parks are located on either side of CityWalk, Universal's downtown district. In order to visit both parks, you will need a two-park ticket. This seems kind of obvious, but if you're a fan of the "Harry Potter" films and want to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express, you won't be able to make it to platform 9 3/4 if your ticket is not for both parks.
3. These are not your average simulators.
I already knew that Universal Studios used a lot of simulators; however, I didn't really know what that meant. The only things that came to mind were those large space-like capsules you saw at your local mall, where kids could climb in and experience a roller coaster while their parents did some shopping. I didn't think I would be a fan. I was very wrong. Universal's simulators incorporate the concepts of a dark ride, add in larger-than-life 3D projection with a dash of 4D elements and top it off with other high-tech trickery. I was blown away and found myself wanting to ride again and again. These are great for people who don't like roller coasters. You'll still feel a thrill without ever leaving the ground. However, these rides may not be good if you or someone with you has motion sickness.
4. Use the virtual line if it's offered.
While you won't find this addition at every ride, if you enjoy Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious: Supercharged but don't want to wait in line, you can take advantage of the virtual line offered at the attraction.
You can use Universal’s app or the kiosks at the ride entrance to make reservations. At your appointed time, you'll show your phone or printed pass and make your way into the building. Keep in mind, once inside, there will still be a minimal wait to board the actual ride.
The virtual line system is also available for Universal's newest coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, the Harry Potter-themed roller coaster that opened in 2019 at Islands of Adventure. However, the coaster has experienced downtime, and because of that, virtual lines may not be available for the ride when you visit.
5. Go out later to avoid paying for parking.
If you're looking to do some shopping or eat at one of CityWalk's numerous restaurants, you'll have to pay to park in the parking garage. You can, however, get free regular parking for matinee movie showings from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the purchase of two or more Universal Cinemark matinee tickets. There is also free self-parking after 6 p.m. for all guests. Watch the calendar, though. Free parking for all guests will not be valid during Halloween Horror Nights.
Did you find any of this helpful? Do you have any other tips for a first time park-goer? Leave them in the comments below.