There’s a lot to know when it comes to visiting Universal, which is why we’ve created this complete guide to Universal that incorporates all kinds of information about attractions, dining, shopping, entertainment, touring plans, characters, and more.
We’ve even included comparisons to Disney World as a reference, just in case you want to see how the two Orlando-based resorts compare.
If you’ve never been to Universal, we’re here to help you understand all of the ins and outs. Ready to get started planning your trip? Let’s do it!
What is at Universal?
Universal is comprised of two theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), one water park (Volcano Bay), CityWalk (similar to Disney Springs), and 8 onsite hotels.
There’s also another park being built nearby called Epic Universe that will feature a Super Nintendo World area. This is reportedly slated to reopen sometime in 2025.
Universal Studios is the original theme park that first opened in 1990. Yes, the E.T. Adventure (an opening day attraction) remains.
There’s so much to experience at Universal Studios, including Diagon Alley from the world of Harry Potter, an entire section dedicated to The Simpsons, and even an attraction inspired by the Fast and the Furious franchise.
Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure is full of, well, adventure.
From Jurassic Park goodness (including the new VelociCoaster), to Harry Potter magic, like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Hogsmeade (Butterbeer, anyone?), this park has plenty to offer guests.
There’s also a range of shopping and dining options.
Volcano Bay is Universal’s only water park. As you can see in the photo above, it has a stunning view — and a photo-worthy volcano.
Speaking of the volcano, it’s an actual waterslide called Ko’okiri Body Plunge featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and a 125-feet descent.
Don’t fret, because there are other much tamer attractions, like the winding river and even some lounge chairs to chill.
This is the newest theme park joining Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
We still don’t know a lot of details, except that the park will feature Super Nintendo World and that it won’t open for awhile (possibly 2025).
CityWalk is basically like Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs and Disneyland’s Downtown Disney, but it’s more along the size of Downtown Disney — small.
This shopping and dining area is essentially in the center of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You can get to both theme parks from here. After all, CityWalk has been dubbed “The Epicenter of Awesome.”
This definitely makes for a nice option if you want to grab a meal or a beverage outside of your hotel or away from the busy theme park.
There are 8 onsite resorts at Universal: Endless Summer (Surfside Inn and Suites; Dockside Inn and Suites), Aventura, Cabana Bay, Loews Sapphire Falls, Loews Royal Pacific, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
You can walk from some of the hotels to the parks, but there is also complimentary transportation provided in the form of a shuttle bus.
There are also offsite resorts to choose from and we go over some of those as well.
How big is Universal compared to Disney World?
Universal is much similar to Disneyland in size — so a lot smaller than Disney World, which is 27,000 acres.
As detailed by Orlando Park Stop, with the addition of Epic Universe (it’s being built on 750 acres), the resort as a whole will nearly double in size.
But, just because Universal is smaller isn’t a bad thing. It’s not as overwhelming and you can manage to pack in a lot more across 2 theme parks and one water park, compared to 4 theme parks and 2 water parks at Disney World.
Plus, there’s still a lot to experience at Universal. And thanks to the size, this makes it easier to navigate and you can easily park hop.
You can download a PDF version of the Universal Orlando map.
Weather at Universal
The weather at Universal is the same as Disney World. After all, they both reside in Orlando, Florida.
Depending on the season, some months will be hotter and wetter than others. As you can see in the graphic below, on average, July is the warmest month and January is the coolest month.
Summers are very hot and humid, so that’s something to keep in mind. During the cooler months, you might even need a jacket or sweater, especially in the evenings.
Make sure you always check the weather before you pack, so you bring the appropriate items. Also keep in mind hurricane season, which typically takes place in August, September, and October.
And always pack an umbrella or a poncho, because Orlando weather isn’t 100 percent reliable. You never know when the sky will open up and you don’t want to get soaked.
Universal vs. Disney World
There are quite a few differences between Universal and Disney World. A few include:
- a FastPass-style system called Express Pass
- shorter planning timeline
- uniquely themed lands, attractions, and entertainment (hello, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!)
- a range of characters to meet, including the Grinch!
- different Dining Plan options
- a variety of photo packages available for purchase (like PhotoPass, but not)
- a locker system to place bags and personal items when riding select attractions
Universal is definitely easier to plan compared to Disney World, mainly due to size. But, both are fun and unforgettable experiences for a multitude of reasons.
How to Plan a Universal Trip
You can basically use our same 6-step process that we teach for Disney World trips when it comes to planning a Universal visit.
Step 1: Pick Your Dates
While we don’t have a Universal crowd calendar, you can compare the best times to visit our Disney World crowd calendar.
Step 2: Decide Where To Stay
Learn about onsite and offsite Universal resort options with our list of pros and cons of Universal hotels.
Step 3: Make A Daily Plan
Similar to Disneyland, you don’t really need to book a week-long vacation to Universal. You can easily fit in what you want to do in the matter of 2-3 days.
Also keep in mind if you want to only focus on the two theme parks or add on a day for the water park, as well.
If you want to explore every nook and cranny, you might want to budget about a total of four days.
Step 4: Plan Your Dining
Make sure you know where you want to eat during your Universal trip, and get reservations for popular meals ahead of time.
Step 5: Create Touring Plans
Just like at Disney World, you’ll want to make sure you’re navigating the parks as efficiently as you can with minimal waits.
Step 6: Add Extra Magic
Learn about all of the options you can plan for your trip to make it extra special.
If you want to know the best way to incorporate a Universal trip into your Disney World trip, we have a guide COMING SOON!
Get the Universal app
Similar to the My Disney Experience app at Disney World, Universal has its own official app that will definitely come in handy during a trip.
The app allows guests to enter a virtual queue for select attractions, mobile order food and drinks, make contactless purchase, check out maps, and more.
Transportation at Universal is nowhere near as complex like it is at Disney World. It’s actually quite simple, but there are still some things you need to know prior to your trip.
From complimentary transportation, to parking, to using rideshare options, how to get from the airport to the resort, learn about Universal transportation options.
Keep in mind that you will also do a lot of walking at Universal, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
What height requirements are there for Universal rides?
Just like all theme parks, there are height requirements for select Universal rides to ensure the safety of all guests – 11 at Universal Studios, 13 at Islands of Adventure, and 14 at Volcano Bay, to be exact.
How do Universal tickets work?
There are lots of things to learn about Universal tickets, including the option to add Express Pass, and ways to save money, of course.
Read more about how Universal’s Express Pass work. COMING SOON!
Does Universal have something similar to PhotoPass?
Universal’s PhotoPass-style system is called “My Universal Photos.”
You can have your photo taken by in-park professional photographers. There are also photos taken on select popular rides and attractions. You can even download photos digitally.
Packing for a Universal trip
Health & Safety Guidelines
In response to the latest face covering guidelines announced by the CDC on July 27, Universal Orlando states that guests are only “encouraged” to follow these guidelines and wear face coverings while indoors. There is no requirement. Beginning July 31, employees will wear face coverings when working indoors.
Per the official website, “We encourage all our guests to follow CDC guidelines and local directives to wear face coverings while indoors across Universal Orlando Resort. Face coverings are optional while outdoors. We also encourage all guests to keep a safe distance between travel parties, and we remain focused on maintaining the highest cleanliness and sanitization standards.”
The website all states the following:
- We encourage all guests, regardless of vaccination status, to wear face coverings while indoors
- We do not require proof of vaccinations
- We encourage all guests to keep a safe distance between travel parties
- We remain focused on maintaining the highest cleanliness and sanitization standards
Universal’s website also states that “you must refrain from visiting” if you can cannot confirm the following:
- You are not feeling sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, you have not been in contact with someone with known or suspected COVID-19 symptoms, and you are not under any self-quarantine orders.