As mentioned in passing in some of my previous posts, I work at a local theme park, but I’ve never said until today that it was Universal Orlando. I’m here, lovelies, to give you all an insider’s guide to the parks (and CityWalk) so that if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, you can get the best experience you can out of it. What follows are some tips that, if followed (maybe not exactly to the letter, but at least as a guide), will certainly make your trip worth it.
Tip #1: It’s all in the timing. Hesitant to plan an Orlando vacation because you hate lines and huge crowds? Come during the off-season. Between the beginning of January until about mid-February (and then again around August and September, right before Halloween Horror Nights), things are usually very manageable. I was helping out at the Incredible Hulk Coaster, which is one of Islands of Adventure’s biggest draws, last week (rides covered later) and I promise, in the seven hours I was there, THE LINE NEVER EXCEEDED 15 MINUTES. It’s also a good idea to come on weekdays, when our local Universal-ers are busy working and the kids are at school. I wouldn’t hit the water rides in January, though – it may be Florida, but 75-80-degree weather still won’t warm a soaked body quick enough.
Tip #2: You don’t have to stay on-property. Yes, our onsite hotels (the Royal Pacific, the Portofino Bay, and the Hard Rock, respectively) are pretty swank, but there is plenty of non-affiliated lodging in the area that won’t cost as much per night to stay. In fact, if you’re going to have a car anyway, places in my old hometown of Kissimmee (which is about a half-hour away) are usually between 1/3 and 1/2 the price (sometimes less) of staying on property. It should be mentioned, though that staying onsite does have its benefits: there is always shuttle transport to the park entrance, and hotel guests get early admission into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as well as free Express ride access, which cuts down lines to virtually nothing. Considering the going price for Express is around $70-80 a person, that’s not a bad deal.
Tip #3: If you can go bagless, do it. There is a security checkpoint as you attempt to head to the parks, and the lines for bag checks can take awhile. If you can fit your wallet, keys, and phone in your pockets, you can go through the No Bag line and get to the fun that much quicker.
Tip #4: Check out CityWalk. You have to walk through it to get to the parks from our parking structures anyway, so why not look around? There’s plenty to eat and drink, some pretty cool places to shop (if you’re into that sort of thing), and, for our clubbers, a handful of nightspots that are abuzz every night. (Clubs do require a cover, but parking is free after 6 p.m.)
Tip #5: Buying online will save you from ticket lines. You can print out your confirmation, and then just use our Will Call Kiosks to get your tickets. Then, just head to the entrance!
Tip #6: Map it out. The easiest way to ensure you get to do everything you want is to view the park maps online before you come (or grab one as you enter and take a minute to peruse it). This way, you know what each of the two parks have to offer and you can see what most appeals to you and/or your group. Nothing is more frustrating than wandering aimlessly for an hour having not done a single thing because you don’t know what is where or what there is to do. Yes, looking around is half the fun, but I doubt anyone is going to pay almost a hundred dollars each to have a walk.
Tip #7: The food is good, but it’s been seen before. Most places have the basics: Burgers, chicken, hot dogs, etc. The only places that truly offer different cuisine inside the parks are Lombard’s Seafood Grill and Finnegan’s at Universal Studios, and Confisco’s Grill, Mythos, and the Three Broomsticks at Islands of Adventure. A caveat: the food is different here, but it WILL cost you more. Your best bet, if you don’t want to pay theme park food prices (although these are somewhat expected and not exorbitant), is to (a) eat at CityWalk, where they have places like Moe’s Southwestern Grill, Panda Express, and Burger King (among others), or (b) go hit a fast-food place for lunch and come back. Tickets and parking are good for the whole day.
Tip #8: Get the refillable cup. Refills are only .99 each. Need I say more?
Tip #9: Consider who you’re bringing. Since both parks are mainly based around rides that some cannot/won’t wish to experience, it’s best to know what you’re getting into. If your group isn’t going to want to do a Child Swap for every single ride because of your infant, maybe bringing him or her is not such a good idea. If one of your party is disabled or has issues with rides, they’re going to be rather bored while everyone else is riding. Just sayin’.
Tip 10: The lockers, should you need one while you ride, are free!
Tips? I got a million of ’em. I can even give more, if needed. But if you consider these ten, I can guarantee your visit will go much smoother. Now, my pretties, you can follow the Universal tagline and BE COURAGEOUS. BE OUTRAGEOUS. BE EXTRAORDINARY.