Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, my favorite season has always been summer. It meant baseball games, long days spent at the neighborhood pool, family trips, and (probably most important) no school. The world felt so much more alive when there were places to go and constant activities to look forward to. It’s an incredibly nostalgic time for me still today — especially now that I work in the theme parks I used to only visit, home to some of the most thrilling activities imaginable.
There is truly no shortage of things to do at Universal Orlando Resort, so when it comes time to create your own summer vacation memories, how do you choose? Well slather on that sunscreen because I’m here to tell you. From beachy resort hotels to frozen delights, you’ll walk away knowing how to stay cool and content.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want to carry that summer vacation feeling with you 24/7 (and who wouldn’t?) you’ll need to find a place to stay that gives you true “sunglasses on, no responsibilities” vibes.
Go retro with a 1950s-themed beach resort.
· Eat breakfast at Bayliner Diner and take in some old fashioned ’60s commercials. You’ll instantly feel transported back to your Saturday morning cartoons days.
· Grab an inner tube and float down the lazy river for the ultimate in summer relaxation.
· Stay in a Volcano View tower suite to look down on the island paradise that is Universal Volcano Bay even in your sleep.
Adopt a lifestyle filled with perpetual sand and surf.
· Have an indoor picnic on the table in your spacious, affordable, beachy 2-bedroom Suite.
· Get your next cold drink at the poolside Sand Bar and let your feet rest from all the in-park exploring you’ve inevitably been doing.
· Count how many surfboards you can spot around the hotel. Or at least take some fun photos to make your friends jealous!
WHAT TO DO
Like I said above, there is so much at Universal Orlando Resort and you’ll want to try it all! But that Florida humidity is going to take more of a toll than you might think. For that reason, I’m choosing to focus on activities that will cool you down or give you a bit of a respite from the break-neck pace of hits like Jurassic World VelociCoaster.
First thing’s first. You’ll be wanting to know how to put that new sunscreen to good use even in the drier parks. I like to save water rides for the time of day when the sun is at its peak and I can physically feel my tan lines forming for maximum effect.
· Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges: If you’re hoping to look as if you’ve been submerged in one of those hotel pools we discussed earlier, this is the ride for you. You’ll have water coming at you from all angles and a smile on your face as you laugh at your shocked friends and family.
· Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls: Get your showers with a side of exhilaration when you careen down a steep drop in a hollowed-out log. Water in your face and wind in your hair? The perfect way to beat the heat!
· Jurassic Park River Adventure: Start off slow with an awe-inducing boat ride past some of your favorite herbivores before you find yourself face-to-face with a Tyrannosaurus rex and an 85-foot drop. If you want to get wet but not drenched, I consider this the perfect amount of splash.
Bonus: You don’t have to be on a ride to interact with water! Try taking your little ones to Camp Jurassic or finding any of the various splash pads throughout the resort to help cool off.
You’ll never appreciate air conditioning more than when you get hit with a cool blast in the middle of a theme park in July. The great news is that you can feel it again and again because there are a number of excellent attractions that will get you out of the sun for a prolonged period of time.
· The Bourne Stuntacular: A true crowd-pleaser, this stunt show blends practical stunts and effects with mind-blowing technology that will keep you on the edge of your seat. At a run time of about 25 minutes, it’s well worth a stop.
· Ollivanders Experience: Witness a wand actually choose a wizard in an intimate show that’s guaranteed to make me teary-eyed every single time. With locations in both lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure, it’s a no brainer.
· Universal Cinemark Movie Theater: Take a break from stepping into the movies and experience a summer blockbuster the old-fashioned way at a 20-screen theater. Those luxury recliners will feel so good.
Immersive Indoor Queues
Standing in line is underrated! I said what I said… When the queues are as thoughtfully designed as those at Universal Orlando, you won’t mind letting those behind you pass as you take it all in.
· Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: Any big Wizarding World fan will definitely want to spend some time here. The winding halls of Hogwarts castle are filled with amazing details and references to the movies from the Mirror of Erised to the Sorting Hat. Each turn brings new surprises.
· Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon: One great thing about this queue is that it’s not a traditional queue! Instead, you’ll wander freely through a series of rooms and hallways that represent the iconic NBC Studios in New York City while you wait for your group to be called to the actual ride. Browse memorabilia or just lounge on the couches and you might be serenaded by the Ragtime Gals.
· Revenge of the Mummy: I think one of the more underrated aspects of this ride is that the story starts well before you board a vehicle. Meander through the queue and take in film props, concept drawings, and a (fictional) behind-the-scenes documentary detailing how production on “The Mummy” (1999) was cursed.
Now I consider myself quite a thrill-seeker, but there’s a time and place for every type of ride. Sometimes you just want to be carried along at a leisurely pace while you look at pretty scenery, right?
· The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!: Gently weaving around the Seuss Landing treetops, this trolley gives you amazing views of Islands of Adventure along with whimsical representations of Dr. Seuss’s indelible characters. Plus, it has multiple tracks which means you’ll need to ride more than once.
· Pteranodon Flyers: Before we go any further, it’s important to note that this ride has a height maximum. Yes, it’s only for kids and their accompanying adults, so if you don’t have a little one with you, you’re out of luck. However, young adventurers will have a great time slowly gliding about Jurassic Park and any extra adults can hang out in the shade of Camp Jurassic. It’s a win-win.
Universal Volcano Bay
It’s arguable that the sole aim of this article should be imploring you to go to Volcano Bay. This water theme park will make you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a tropical island oasis in Central Florida, and I don’t know a better way to soak in summer (literally). You’ll absolutely want to plan a full day taking advantage of its charms.
· Relax on Waturi Beach and take in the mighty Krakatau volcano while the surf nips at the nearby shore.
· Slip and slide your way through Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a coaster-water slide hybrid that will hype up everyone in your group.
· Get a drink at Dancing Dragons Boat Bar if you’re over 21. My personal favorite is the Volcano Blossom draft beer, but you’ll also want to try something colorful with an orchid on top for maximum summering.
If you want to go beyond what’s listed, here is a detailed account of how I like to spend a Volcano Bay day.
WHAT TO EAT
I know what you’re thinking… “You want me to do all of these activities, but when am I going to eat?” We’re burning a lot of calories here. Look no further than the below!
Table Service Restaurants
I would definitely recommend making reservations for at least one sit down restaurant every day you plan to spend in the parks. Not only is the food amazing, but you’ll get to rest your feet and leave your worries in the heat while cold drinks are brought to your table.
· Mythos Restaurant: This is my pick for Islands of Adventure, but also just an all-timer. Step inside a cool grotto for a mix of Mediterranean, Asian, and American fare with options elevated far beyond your typical popcorn and turkey legs. You’ll never want to leave.
· Finnegans Bar & Grill: A great choice if you find yourself starving in Universal Studios Florida, this is a traditional Irish-American pub and a lively bar. Grab a pint and you might even get to enjoy some live music.
· Universal CityWalk: You can also always pop over to Universal’s premiere entertainment district, conveniently located just outside Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. With restaurants for every imaginable taste and budget, you’ll find something worth your while. One of my favorites is Bigfire, where you can pretend you’re back at summer camp and roast marshmallows or just commandeer a corner of the bar for drinks and appetizers.
To quote a song played more than once at my middle school dance, “What’s cooler than being cool?” There are plenty of deliciously ice cold options available throughout the resort.
· Frozen Butterbeer: There is no better feeling on a hot day than when this slushy concoction reaches your lips and you’re instantly hit with a flavor reminiscent of butterscotch and shortbread. Prove me wrong.
· Milkshake at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen: Whether you go for Key Lime Pie or the classic Confetti topped with an entire slice of cake, these are perpetually a crowd pleaser.
· Pineapple Fire and Ice Margarita at Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food: If you’re 21 or older, this is the perfect mid-summer refresher. Tequila, agave nectar, fresh lime, and a whole pineapple ice pop. Cheers!
Just Feels Like Summer
Ok, we’ve covered the deliciously practical. But there are a couple additional dining experiences to which I wanted to call specific attention, because they are perfect for the season.
· Hot Dog Hall of Fame: The nation’s best hot dogs have all assembled here to provide you with some big league taste. Close your eyes and you can practically hear the chatter from the bleachers.
· Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville: This one might be a bit personal, but as someone whose parents played Jimmy Buffett on every Florida road trip, nothing serves me sun-drenched nostalgia like this restaurant.
So what did I miss? Tell us how you like to spend summer at Universal Orlando Resort in the comments below!