“We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
Whether you’re taking your children for the first time or you’re wanting to be a kid all over again, visiting a theme park can easily become one of your favorite memories. However, the fun can easily turn to stress if you haven’t properly planned.
My husband and I just got back from a weekend trip to Universal Studios and we had an absolute blast. Below you’ll find a few tips to help make your trip better:
1. Do your research.
When’s the best time to visit?
It’s in January and September avoiding 3-day weekends like MLK and Labor Day. Also, research certain events going on. We had no idea that the Harry Potter Expo was going on until we had already booked our tickets. Surprisingly it didn’t affect ride lines.
What parks to visit?
We decided to do both parks in one day which was plenty of time to get everything done.
What can’t miss rides?
This is really subjective, but definitely The Mummy, Transformers, all Harry Potter Rides, Spiderman and Jurassic Park.
2. Book a nearby hotel.
Staying 30 minutes away may save you some money, by at the end of the night, you’ll want to head back to your hotel as soon as possible.
Also, if you have kids, you may want to take breaks throughout the day. Staying on property makes it much easier to head back for a nap. Around Universal, there’s quite a few hotels.
(Picture by: http://www.aaa.com)
We stayed at The Castle Hotel. While it wasn’t a “Universal Studios” hotel, it was only 3 miles away – making it easy to go back-and-forth.
3. Buy your tickets in advance.
When you get to the park in the morning, the last thing you want to do is stand in line to buy tickets. Also, print them off ahead of time so you don’t have to stand in line at the kiosks.
TIP: If you get a dining pass (which I don’t recommend), then you have to print your tickets from the kiosk. However, you can go the night before to City Walk and print them off so you’re ready for the next day. City Walk is free to go to and the kiosks are outside of the parks. When we got ours the night before, there was no one at them.
4. Spring for the express passes, but forgo the express unlimited passes.
Nothing takes away from the fun more than having to wait in excruciatingly long lines especially if you have kids with short attention spans.
Express passes allowed us to walk onto most rides without a wait. It actually took longer to walk through the empty line lanes, then it did to stand in line.
You do not need to buy an unlimited express pass especially if you’re doing the park-to-park passes. It took us one day to ride most of the attractions in both parks. After we were finished, we only had about an hour left. So, you really wouldn’t be able to ride them multiple times if you’re trying to do them all.
Remember: The two most popular Harry Potter rides do not allow you to use your express passes.
5. Plan your day.
Figure out what park you want to visit first and what ride. We decided to go to Universal Studios first and boy, was I glad we did. Most people start out their day at Islands of Adventure. So, the park was ours for the taking.
And we headed straight for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts in the very back of the park because our express passes didn’t work on this ride. When we got there, it was only a 10-minute wait.
6. Get there 30 minutes early.
Universal is unique in that you have to go through one security point to get to all 3 areas: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and City Walk. Then, you walk to the park you want to visit.
Lines start forming early to enter the park. Typically, they will let you in a little early which gives you a few more minutes in the park.
7. Take an Uber unless you’re staying on property.
Uber will drop you off at the bus area which is much easier than parking.
The night before we went to the park, we made the mistake of driving to City Walk and parking. The car line to get in was crazy and parking was difficult. They really don’t have this whole parking thing figured out. Plus, you’ll have to pay anywhere between $5 to $35 – compare to a $10 Uber.
8. Download the Universal app before you go and connect to the park’s Wi-Fi when you get there.
You’ll definitely be want to connect to the free Wi-Fi because there a lot of places where you won’t get service. And if you’re waiting in line, you’re going to want to access so you can plan where you’re going next at the park.
9. Pack a park bag.
For a successful trip, you need all the essentials or you’ll pay out the wazoo. Luckily, they offer free lockers for certain rides.
Here’s what you need:
– A drawstring backpack. A larger backpack won’t fit in the lockers they provide. Plus, it can be bulky and heavy.
– Travel hand sanitizer. Since bathrooms are few and far between, you don’t want to run off to wash your hands all the time. Keep a travel size with you and it’ll make eating lunch easier.
–Ibuprofen and Tylenol. With all the going, going, going, you’ll definitely want something for your headache and achey muscles. Some of the rides at the park are quite jerky, too.
–A poncho. When it rains, you’ll pay $10 per poncho if you didn’t bring your own. Plus, it works great to keep you dry from the 3 water rides at Islands of Adventure.
–A lanyard with a zipper. Unfortunately, they don’t have Magic Bands like Disney does. So, keeping track of your park tickets, express passes and dining plans can be a pain. Try to find a zipper type lanyard so they don’t fall out.
– A plastic water bottle. Drinks are expensive and a refillable water bottle will keep you hydrated while keeping costs low. Or you can buy a bottle in the park and hold on to it.
– Sunscreen. Even in the winter, there’s a chance you can get burnt with the sun beating down on you.
– A portable phone charger. I had just gotten one and completely forgot to bring it! By 5 pm, both our phones were dead from using the app and taking pictures. The rest of the time we went old school by using a paper map.
10. Relax and rejuvenate at the end of the night.
Whether you have another day in the park or are making the long journey home, you’ll want to rest up at the end of the night.
Grab a drink at the bar or hop in the hot tub to help your poor aching body after walking miles and miles at the parks.
P.S. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep so you’ll be ready for what the next day has in store.