As a loyal Hufflepuff, a front-row sitter at those mid-90’s afternoon acapella performances at Mel’s Drive-In, and as a child who would always think she had a fever from all the crying she did at the end of E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, Universal and I go way back. And over the past three decades, I’ve had many opportunities to perfect my guest experience.
Normally, I would dedicate an entire day to each theme park (I am very meticulous). But recently I took on a one-day, park-to-park venture. It was my wedding anniversary and the first time away from my now 1-year-old son. So, I went all in. Turns out I had the time of my life and, trust me, as a new mom I do not take this feeling lightly.
So, whether you are in town for a couple of days, have a lot on your itinerary, managed a quick escape from real life for some real fun, or are just looking to feel like your old self again, here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your park-to-park experience at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
1. Purchase Tickets in Advance — and Get There Early
When you’re on a two-park mission, every line counts — but save the waiting time for after the turnstiles. Arrive a little before the gates open and factor in 30 minutes for parking and security screening. With The Official Universal Orlando Resort App you get the Parking Reminder feature, so you can find your way back to your car after a long day (you’ll thank me for this one later). Since most days the crowds start picking up an hour or so after opening time, take advantage of these quieter morning hours. By mid-morning, you could probably have ridden Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit twice (if you dare, cause I certainly don’t).
PRO TIP: If you really want to get a great head start on your day, book a stay at one of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels and get Early Park Admission, which allows you to access the theme parks prior to the scheduled opening time.
Either way, buying tickets online and redeeming them from your phone is convenient as it gets you right through the gates quicker. You can purchase them on the Universal website as well as on the mobile app. Speaking of…
2. Download The Official Universal Orlando Resort App
Make sure you download the app before heading to the park. The perks come in handy; aside from saving you time at the entrance since you can buy and manage your tickets with the Wallet feature, it also helps you organize your day with the Interactive Park Map that gives you the attractions’ wait time and showtimes (so important). It also allows you to join Universal’s Virtual Line Experience to reserve ride times for you and your party at certain attractions. By the way…
3. Join the Virtual Line Experience ASAP
At Universal you can be in two places at once. OK, it’s not exactly magic, but it’s technology at its best. So, while you’re catching a show or catching your breath, you can also be in the queue for other attractions, such as the unmissable Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Keep in mind that this feature is available for select rides at select times, and you can only make same-day reservations, one at a time, and only while you’re on Universal Orlando property. Guaranteeing your place in line as soon as you hit Universal CityWalk in the AM is not too soon!
4. Don’t Wing It
I love a good to-do list — although at the theme parks it’s more like a must-do list. It helps me walk through the gates ready to hit the ground running. So, consider picking out your must-do’s in advance as it helps you prioritize your experiences and ensures you cover all your non-negotiables. With the app you’ve got that at your fingertips since you can also research and favorite the rides, shows, and restaurants you’ve had your eye on, so you don’t waste time wandering around. Or DO wander around! Especially if you…
5. Consider Adding Universal’s Express Pass Unlimited to Your Budget
You’ve got a full day ahead, so skipping lines helps you experience more (with repeats!). If your goal is to hit as many rides as possible, this tip is for you. Don’t worry if you haven’t purchased your pass yet, you can change your mind at any time and get them at either park — but keep in mind that on busier days they may sell out.
PRO TIP: When you stay at a Universal Premier Category Hotel, Express Pass Unlimited is included free.
6. Eat on the Go
Who has the time to eat when they’re having fun? I do. Even if it’s a quick stop at TODAY Cafe for a chocolate croissant (or any of their pastries, really). But if you’re looking to dine in and are afraid of missing out on all the fun, you can use Mobile Food and Drink Ordering in the app. Set up an account ahead of time, so that at any point during the day you can choose a restaurant and place your order. Then just hit “Prepare My Order” when you’re at the venue and, voila, a hot and tasty meal in no time. An invaluable time-saver when you’re on a two-park mission.
7. Travel on the Hogwarts Express
If you’re also a Harry Potter fan, you’ll most definitely want to explore both lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter during your visit to Universal Orlando Resort. And sure, with the lands being located in separate parks, you could exit one land and walk to the other, but why would you do that if you can stay in the magic and board the Hogwarts Express to travel between the lands? With a 2-park ticket, you can board the train at Platform 9¾ (after running through the brick platform in King’s Cross Station, of course). Or, board at Hogsmeade Station and back travel to London for a completely different adventure. As I love trying to relive my favorite moments from the film series, I usually board the Hogwarts Express in London, by Diagon Alley, for that iconic and familiar journey to Hogwarts.
8. Save the Best for Last
Whether your all-time fave is in Seuss Landing, Jurassic Park, or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, keep your cool and get more done before the grand finale. Chances are your favorite spots are most people’s favorite spots, which means you could be waiting in queues for hours while you could have covered A LOT of ground. I chose to start my day at Universal Studios and although my impulse was to rush over to Diagon Alley as soon as I went through the park gates, I decided to save my ultimate Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts for last. That way, I was able to hit all the great attractions in Universal Studios by early afternoon and then enjoy my favorite ride with a shorter line. A great way to end the first half of my park-to-park day before heading to Islands of Adventure.
9. Don’t Dismiss the Classics
Sure, we can’t wait to ride the breath-taking Jurassic World VelociCoaster. But don’t go skipping treasures like The Revenge of The Mummy, E.T. Adventure (sobs), and Men in Black: Alien Attack. Aside from being unmissable classics, I can tell you I always have an exceptionally good time, especially at Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges(note to self: bring an extra pair of socks next time).
10. Time to Go
Well, not quite yet. Although you might be feeling somewhat tired from your 12-hour fun, CityWalk is just starting to come alive. Sit back and relax while you enjoy some good food and cold drinks before you call it a night. And whenever you feel ready to leave (if you ever do!), you’ll be glad you used the Parking Reminder feature on the app — told you you’d thank me later.
Got more tips on how to enjoy a park-to-park day like a pro? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below.