My Guide to Universal Studios + Disney World
Back in September 2023, Mason and I embarked on an epic adventure to Universal Studios and Disney World!
Let me tell you, the little kid inside me was practically jumping for joy; it truly was one of the most exhilarating trips we had ever experienced! We are STILL reminiscing as I’m writing this weeks later.
For the record, we spent most of our time at Universal and only one day at Disney – you will see why later on! If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, Universal Studios, or both, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, I cover everything from must -see attractions and hidden gems, to avoiding long lines and making the most of your visit.
Scroll down for my Guide to Universal Studios + Disney World!
My Guide to Universal Studios + Disney World
- We chose to go in September since kids had just gone back to school and we figured it would be less busy. Typically, September is also less hot BUT it was still quite warm to say the least, lol. Make sure you hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! There are water stations for you to fill up your water bottle. You cannot bring in your water bottle full of water but you can fill it up once you’re inside.
- To beat the heat smartly, I recommend hitting the park first thing in the morning. We would always take a break in the middle of the day and relax in the pool and then go again in the evening. Splitting up your day like that makes it a lot more enjoyable!
- In addition to the hot temperatures, Florida is also very humid. When it rains, it POURS there. Ponchos are a must for when it storms. They also come in handy for water rides to protect you from getting wet (more about that later). You can buy ponchos all throughout the parks.
- Expect to be very tired as the days are jam packed and there is a lot of walking involved. On average we clocked 20k steps a day! Make sure you get a good nights sleep as you want to be 100% to enjoy your time. We found it took a couple days to calm down from the excitement when we first got there, so try not to overdo it right away or you will burn yourself out.
- Be prepared to allocate money to extra costs as everything costs money. I.e a using a dryer if you want to dry off after the water rides.
- Starbucks down there is the same price but better tasting at the parks in my opinion! The Disney Starbucks was a machine. Check it out if you go!
- For any of the more thrilling/scary rides, think mind over matter. This would always help me! Worst case scenario, most rides aren’t longer than a minute. Closing your eyes helps if you’re scared (I did this several times lol).
- Express passes are SO worth it. I could not imagine having done it without them! It is not fun to wait in the line-ups as you will become very grumpy in the Florida heat 😉
- If you take away anything from this blog, it’s to invest in good quality shoes. With walking 20k steps a day, blisters become your worst enemy.
- The water rides are refreshing but they have a way of leaving your feet soaking wet in no time! I found that it was best to wear sandals for those rides.
- We bought lanyards for our passes so we could effortlessly scan them at every ride without having to rummage through our bags. Lanyards are available at all the kiosks.
- Be sure to slather on sunscreen and sport a hat to protect yourself from that scorching Florida sun!
Universal Studios Guide
About Universal Studios
Universal Studios Orlando consists of three parks! We explored Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures. They also have a new park that is planned to open in 2025 called Universal’s Epic Universe! Stay tuned for that. You can check out my Universal Studios vlog here.
Universal General Tips
- There are eight official on-site hotels at Univeral Studios. We stayed at one of their Premier hotels called Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Like at Disney World, guests of Universal’s hotels get access to special perks. One of the best perks is that if you stay at their Premier Resorts, you get an express pass included.
- If you stay on resort like we did, you can take the water taxi to the park which is very convenient. It’s about a 5-7 minute ride.
- If you are not staying at a Premier Resort, you can still purchase a Universal Express Pass, which I highly recommend as it allows you to skip the long lines.
- At Universal, a nice perk is the liberating freedom of enjoying drinks throughout the park. You can buy drinks from kiosks and walk around as well as drink them in line. This liquid encouragement becomes your trusty companion, calming any nerves or doubts that may arise before experiencing each thrilling ride.
- Download the official Universal App. From checking wait times to mobile ordering, and confirming park hours to locating the closest restroom and your parking spot, the Universal Orlando app will be your best friend in the park. Almost everything you need to know will be at the tap of a button.
- The park closes at 7 or 8pm, but guess what? As long as you get in line for a ride before 8, they’ll still honor you going even though it’s passed closing. We took advantage of this on rides with long wait times!
- Something else we invested in was purchasing annual passes. This is not necessary but we liked that it takes the pressure off so we could pop in and out of the park instead of being committed to one day.
- Test seats are available outside certain rides so if you’re feeling unsure, you can sit in and see how you fit into it.
- Many attractions don’t allow bags, but provide free lockers nearby for storing purses, phones, and anything else you might have on you. There are larger lockers you can pay for at the front of the park in addition for extra storage!
- It is a short walk between the two parks but I recommend taking the Hogwarts Express. You do need a Park-to-Park admission ticket to board. You can board the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross Station in London at Universal Studios Florida and travel to Hogsmeade Station in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, or the other way around. I recommend riding it both ways to get the full experience!
Food + Drink
CityWalk is Universal Studios very own food and shopping district! Keep in mind that at the end of the day as guests are leaving the parks, CityWalk becomes very crowded and the restaurants fill up. I highly recommend making a reservation if you’re planning to dine at them. We preferred eating at CityWalk over the parks as we did not find the park food anything special.
Let’s be honest here – at Universal Studios, we knew what we were getting: fast food galore! One restaurant I would recommend at the park though is Mythos Restaurant. It’s an award-winning full service restaurant in a mythical setting. Very instagrammable!
Other CityWalk Restaurants:
- The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen – fan-favorite for their over the top milkshakes and dessert concoctions
- Voodoo Doughnut – offers more than 50 types of unique donuts
- VIVO Italian Kitchen – artisan pizza, housemade pasta, and an open kitchen
- Hard Rock Cafe – rock ’n’ roll-themed chain. This is the biggest one in the world! I’ll share a secret with you: a section of the Berlin Wall is also located behind it.
- Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food – tableside guac, colorful decor, and street-style eats
If it’s your first time, definitely try every ride and decide for yourself! These are just my opinions.
My Favourite Rides
- Revenge of the Mummy – a roller coaster in the dark that catapults you forward and backwards along an electrifying track. (Universal Studios)
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster– Florida’s fastest and tallest launch coaster, propelling you through the air at a mind-boggling speed of 70mph. (Islands of Adventure Park)
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls – this log flume attraction propels you through hilarious scenes filled with slapstick humor before plunging you down a 75-foot drop with a big splash. (Islands of Adventure Park)
- Jurassic Park River Adventure – glide along peacefully one moment only to come face-to-face with a roaring t-rex towering above during an epic 85-foot plunge. (Islands of Adventure Park)
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure – hop on Hagrid’s famous motorbike and be prepared to go backwards and forwards on a coaster journey through the enchanting Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I would say if I had to pick one ride as my favorite, this would be it. (Islands of Adventure Park)
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – descend deep underground on this multi-dimensional thrill ride that’s a mix between simulator and coaster. (Universal Studios Park in Diagon Alley)
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride – this underrated gem offers great views of the park and is enjoyable for all ages (Islands of Adventures Park)
My Least Favourite Rides
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong – it looks very cool from the outside but it’s underwhelming. You’re watching a huge screen and you have to look on either side of you, which I found hard to see and a bit boring. (Islands of Adventure)
- Popeye & Pluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges – you are constantly spinning and you get extremely wet which is very uncomfortable. (Islands of Adventure)
- Men in Black Alien Attack – this is a shooting interactive dark ride. I didn’t care to shoot the guns and the ride is very old and in need of an update. There is also a lot of spinning which can trigger dizziness if you’re prone to it. (Universal Studios)
- The Simpsons Ride – I didn’t bother riding this as I heard it makes you feel extremely nauseous!! Normally I would try it for myself but I’ve heard too many bad things that I didn’t even bother. (Universal Studios)
- Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast – you stand on a conveyer belt and shoot at a screen. Underwhelming for me and my arms got very tired lol. (Universal Studios)
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster – this was the first ride we did which I loved at first, but after riding it a couple times I realized how rough it is! It gave me whip lash at one of the abrupt stops and left me feeling sore and nauseous. I felt horrible for half a day! There’s also a lot of inversions so you have to like going upside down to go on this ride. (Islands of Adventures)
Islands of Adventure is the ultimate haven for thrill-seekers and water enthusiasts alike, boasting an impressive trio of exhilarating water rides: Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Pluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.
We rode Jurassic Park the most as it’s one of my all time favorite rides. This legendary ride transports you straight into the heart of prehistoric times. You get the least wet on this one – allowing you to fully enjoy the rest of your day without feeling soggy or uncomfortable.
If getting drenched from head to toe is more your style, then brace yourself for Popeye’s! This white-water rafting adventure takes you swirling down tumultuous rapids surrounded by whimsical cartoon scenery that transports you straight into a comic book world. This particular ride wasn’t my favorite due to how soaked you get.
Ripsaw Falls was great, as it reminded me of Splash Mountain in Disney World. I love the plunge down the steep drop, creating an adrenaline rush like no other. You also get very wet on this attraction!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley is an area tucked away in Universal Studios, and let me tell you, it is pure magic!
There’s so much to see and do here! For those who crave the authentic wizarding experience, the most famous shops of the Wizarding World await your exploration. Step into Ollivanders Wand Shop and witness the extraordinary moment when a wand chooses its rightful owner! If you’re a thrill-seeker, you can embark on a heart-pounding adventure beneath Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
The attention to detail in Diagon Alley is mind-boggling; every cobblestone street and whimsical storefront felt meticulously crafted to transport visitors straight into J.K. Rowling’s imagination.
A couple spots to visit:
- The Dragon atop Gringotts Wizarding Bank will breathe fire every few minutes (Mason loved this).
- You can cast spells with the Interactive Wands. With a wave of your wand and the proper incantation, you can cast spells in over a dozen locations in Diagon Alley. Find the locations on the map that comes with your Interactive Wand purchase.
- Stop by the Knight Bus parked on the London Embankment. It’s three stories tall so you can’t miss it!
- Pop into the phone booth. I’ll share another secret: If you go inside the phone booth and dial MAGIC (962442), you’ll get a message from the Ministry of Magic on the phone!
- Knockturn Alley is a dark street where it’s always nighttime and cool. There are spells you can do in there but it’s easy to miss! The entrances are by the Leaky Cauldron and restrooms.
Disney World Guide
Disney World has four parks consisting of Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. To make the most of your visit, it is essential to start by making a list of must-do activities and downloading the My Disney Experience app for easy planning.
Once you have everything sorted out, it’s time to decide what your priorities are within these enchanting parks. Is it giving yourself a scare on Tower of Terror or witnessing the mesmerizing Disney Parade at Magic Kingdom? The main decision lies in whether you choose to limit yourself to one park or embark on an ambitious park hopping adventure like we did.
We wanted to experience as much magic as possible in just one day at Disney World! However, let me tell you that while our time there was indeed fun-filled and memorable, we found ourselves favoring Universal more as adults. Universal seemed better suited for us with its exhilarating rides and attractions catered towards older audiences. On the other hand, Disney is undeniably designed for families and kids alike; its vastness can be overwhelming yet breathtakingly magical all at once. And who could resist indulging in nostalgia when surrounded by beloved characters from our childhoods?
Check out my Disney World reel here.
- One of the biggest tips I could give you is getting Genie+ which is Disney’s new FastPass replacement. To be frank, it’s not as good as the Express Pass in Universal, but it does help.
- Be prepared to be in the sun, as Disney World had a lot less shade than Universal.
- EPCOT is the only park you can have drinks and walk around. Nowhere else in Disney are you permitted to wander with alcohol.
- I found EPCOT was the best place to dine! They have various restaurants showcasing cuisines from around the globe.
- Disney’s rides are a lot older and more rough in comparison to Universal’s rides which are definitely newer and more smooth. Keep in mind that there are some new rides in Disney that might be better, but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to ride them as the line ups are so long.
- Besides the rides, there are so many great things to experience at Disney World, including: the fireworks at night, the parade, and various shows throughout the day.
And there you have it, my guide to Disney World + Universal Studios! I wanted to share this blog post with you as going to these parks can feel very overwhelming. I think it is so important to share our experiences to help others as I wish I had somebody that could’ve provided me this information. Be sure to save this blog post if you are planning an upcoming trip to Disney World, Universal Studios, or both!