How to Do Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in One Day (Itinerary)

If you’re anything like me, then you absolutely HATE long lines and crowded parks. When I spend the big bucks to go to theme parks like Disney or Universal, I want to do everything without all the waiting.

Make sure to pick a non-crowded time to go.

Whatever you do, do NOT go during the summer or any school breaks for that matter. This means holidays and three-day weekends. Avoid them all like the plague. Instead, try to take your kids out of school. Parks will also be more crowded on the weekend. So, if you can, it’s best to go Monday through Thursday.

We went to Orlando in January when schools were back in session. Remember, January has one three-day weekend, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. You’ll want to avoid that weekend. Also, we went on a Sunday and crowds were very low considering it was the Harry Potter Expo weekend.

Here was our itinerary that allowed us to get everything done in one day:

Sunday

7:30 AM: Left the hotel to go to Universal Studios

We took an Uber to the park which saved us a ton of time. Uber drivers have passes to drop you off at the very front without having to wait in the car line to get to the parking lot.

7:45 AM: Picked up some Universal Studios apparel to wear in the park. 

Starbucks - MinionBefore you go through security, they have a small kiosk selling Universal apparel. Thankfully it was there because it was freezing! I bought my bright yellow Minions sweatshirt there.

TIP: Buy your apparel before you get into the park or before you leave your home for that matter. I bought my husband a Jurassic Park shirt from Target and it was less than $13.

8:00 AM: Grabbed some coffee from Starbucks at City Walk

My husband and I skipped breakfast to get some extra zzz’s and get to the park faster. Luckily, the Starbucks inside City Walk was open. So, we grabbed some breakfast and coffee before we hit the park. Since we got to the park too early, it gave us something to do while we were waiting.

8:30 AM: Got in line at Universal Studios

We knew the lines were going to be longer thanks to the Harry Potter Expo. So, we headed to Universal Studios and hopped in line. We chose to go to Universal Studios first because everybody was going to Islands of Adventure for the famous Harry Potter World.

8:45 AM: Entered the park (they normally let you in early) and headed straight for Harry Potter & the Escape from GringottsGringotts Bank

They normally open the parks before 9 AM so it gives you a little head start on your day. As soon as you get in, you’ll want to head straight to Diagon Alley. Later in the day, the place will be so crowded you can’t even move.

Luckily, we got to the ride early and only waited about 5 minutes. This is one of the only rides that your express pass doesn’t work on.

9:00 AM: Wondered around Diagon Alley

To avoid the crowds, we wondered around Diagon Alley and into all of the shops. This is a perfect time to go into the wand shop or else you’ll be waiting FOREVER to just get into the shop. Make sure to grab your chocolate frog at this time. I made the terrible mistake of going back later in the day. I waited 10 minutes in line just to buy the damn things for our trip on the Hogwarts Express.

This is also a good time to get your picture taken with the Knight Bus. There were only two people in the line.

9:15 AM to 11:00 PM: Rode rides at Universal Studios

We made our way throughout Universal Studios and rode all of the rides in this order:

Minion MayhemThese rides are right next to each other and are the most popular in the park. You will want to ride these as soon as you finish Diagon Alley:

  • Minion Mayhem
  • Transformers: The Ride 3-D
  • Shrek 4-D

    This is a show so you’ll need to look for times. Fortunately for us, we were able to run over and catch the show in between riding rides:

  • Terminator 2: 3-D

    This is by far my favorite ride at the Universal parks! You’ll want to ride this one early as well as it fills up FAST:

  • Revenge of the Mummy

    These rides are not quite as popular, but are still really fun. ET doesn’t open until 10:00 AM.

  • Men in Black Alien Attack
  • ET
  • Kang & Kodos’ Twirl & Hurl

With the express passes, we were able to ride all of the above rides in less than two hours!

Leaky Cauldron12:30 PM: Dined at the Leaky Cauldron

This is one of the most popular restaurants in Universal Studios. Unfortunately, they do not accept reservation as they are a quick service dining option. Out of all the lines we waited in for rides, this was the longest and it wasn’t event a ride! Try to eat as early as possible.

The fish and chips was amazing! Don’t forget the butter beer. This is the place to get it since you’ve already waited in line. Otherwise, you’ll wait in another line to get it in Hogsmeade.

1:00 PM: Hopped on the Hogwarts Express with our chocolate frogs

Hogwarts ExpressThis was the second longest line we waited in. However, it was totally worth it! Make sure to eat your chocolate frogs to get the full Harry Potter experience.

You can only take the train when you have a park-to-park pass.

1:30 PM to 3:30 PM: Rode rides at Islands of Adventure

These were the least crowded rides and the ones we rode first (and in order as it is in the order that you come to them in the park):

  • The Cat in the Hat
  • The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
  • Storm Force Accelatron
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure

HogsmeadeWe saved Hogsmeade for last because people tend to go to Harry Potter World first – making it less crowded in the middle of the day.

  • Flight of the Hippograff
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey *Express pass does not work on this ride – we still only waited about 10 minutes

3:30 PM to 5:00 PM: Made our way back to Universal Studios and piddled around

We walked back to Universal Studios through City Walk because taking the train would’ve been extremely time consuming – we saw the line!

TIP: You’ll want to take the Hogwarts Express earlier in the day. In the afternoon, more people are using it.

NBC Sports RestaurantsAt this point, we had been on every ride we wanted to go on. My husband and I are just not huge fans of the larger rollercoasters. However, if you are, the lines were not long for them. You’d be able to get them plus all of the other rides done in one day if you have the express pass which I HIGHLY recommend. Really, we just spent the time looking for a restaurant to use the rest of our dining meal plan.
We ended up leaving the park earlier than what it closed and ate in City Walk at the NBC Sports Grill & Brew.

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