While not as big as Disney, Universal is still a substantial resort and is definitely more than just one park (although that is how it started in 1990). It boasts two complete theme parks, five elaborate hotels, a waterway system, a transport system, a central district of shops, dining and entertainment (CityWalk) and two clever mini-golf courses. One of the newest additions to the resort is the innovative water theme park Volcano Bay, hence they also offer a 3-park ticket.
Parks and Amenities
Universal Studios Florida was their starting point but things started to grow in spectacular fashion in 1999 when they opened the fabulous Islands of Adventure theme park and CityWalk, which included a terrific array of restaurants, shops and entertainment, with live music venues and nightclubs. These have been added to over the years, with the sensational Blue Man Group arriving in 2007, along with a fast-food court and then the mini-golf, Hollywood Drive-In Golf (split into two sections). It is well served by a massive multi-storey car park that feeds into the CityWalk hub and is all immensely walkable, even if there are boats and bus transport to their hotels, which include the five-star Portofino Bay Hotel, the chic Hard Rock Hotel, the South Seas-style Royal Pacific Resort the more budget-minded Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and the newest addition- the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Universal will open a new all-glass deisgn hotel called the Aventura in summer 2018.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong
In 2016, the legendary King Kong made a triumphant return to the Universal Orlando Resort. The newest ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, takes guests on a wild expedition to a mysterious island, encountering a series of unimaginable creatures along the way. The multi-sensory attraction builds up to a grand finale that puts riders face to face with the enormous beast.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
This fantastic development arrived at the Islands of Adventure park in 2010 and took Universal’s theme park design and excitement to a whole new level, with an immersive feel and new technology that brought the works of author JK Rowling to vivid life. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the standout ride but the theming and detail everywhere are immense.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
Taking the books and films even further, this area of the Studios park opened in 2014 to mass approval, and even more sensational wizardly experiences, including the Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts ride (part 3-D and part roller-coaster) and the unique Hogwarts Express ride, which took guests between the two Harry Potter areas (but requires a two-park ticket to ride).
Universal Orlando Resort Size
The full Universal site covers almost 900 acres, and attracts more than 15 million visitors a year – most of them heading straight for the Harry Potter areas! That means it can be just as busy as Disney at times, with the same queues at peak periods. All 5 Universal hotels provide early-entry to guests for the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter (1 hour before park opening), while the Portofino Bay, Hard Rock and Royal Pacific give guests a Universal Express pass for the length of their stay.
Recommended Visit Time
In all, you may need 4 days to say you have completely ‘done’ Universal at the busiest times of the year, which is where the Universal Express pass can be worth the extra cost.
- Universal Studios: one full day (two if you don’t manage to see all of Diagon Alley).
- Islands of Adventure: since the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we would recommend spending a day and a half here, particularly during the busier times of the year. However, it is to be noted that younger children may not be fully occupied throughout the entire day. If you have a family of 4, it could work out as cost-effective to book a night at one of the 3 Universal hotels that provide the Universal Express pass as just buying the Express pass itself for 2 days. Check in early on the day of your stay and you will enjoy Universal Express all that day AND the following day after your overnight stay. And you get in early, too!
- CityWalk: If you wanted to sample all the dining options at CityWalk for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you would need seven FULL days to try everything! The superb Blue Man Group show is also well worth considering for an evening’s entertainment, along with Hard Rock Live for music concerts, the Red Coconut Club and The Groove nightclubs, plus the enhanced karaoke of Rising Star (with a live band and backing singers) and the duelling pianos of Pat O’Brien’s. A big enhancement and refurbishment of CityWalk dining in 2014 added some great new venues, like Vivo Italian Kitchen, Antojito’s for great Mexican, the Hot Dog Hall of Fame and the eclectic sushi-and-burger style of Cowfish. The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen was added to the line-up in 2016 and is perfect for those with a sweet tooth.
- Park hopping between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is far easier than switching between the Disney parks and can be done in less than 10 minutes. The two parks are separated only by a 200-metre stretch of CityWalk, hence it is easy to walk from one to the other. Or you can just take the Hogwarts Express from one Harry Potter area to the other and change parks in 5 minutes with no walking at all!
The best-value tickets for Universal Orlando are the special 2 and 3-Park Bonus Tickets sold in the UK that provide 14 full days of access to either both theme parks or both theme parks AND Volcano Bay- Universal's new water theme park, plus the clubs of CityWalk. For maximum flexibility, the Orlando Freedom Ticket sold by AttractionTickets.com covers the 4 Walt Disney World theme parks and 2 water parks, all 3 Universal Orlando Parks, CityWalk, SeaWorld and Aquatica for 2 full weeks.