Our grandchildren are vibrating with excitement as we step hand-in-hand through the entrance turnstile on our way to the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride. The kids’ plan: Ride everything, all day. Our plan: Give them a trip with memories to enjoy forever. Universal Studios Orlando during the soft season (February included) comes with shorter wait times, which translates into more rides, relaxed character photo opportunities, and quicker meal breaks. As an added bonus, the weather is comfortable. February is a great time to enjoy some Florida sunshine.
Note: Some information included in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
1. Explore The Parks
There are three distinct parks at Universal Studios Orlando: The Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, and Universal’s Volcano Bay. Each park has a variety of thrill rides, kiddie rides, dining options, shopping, and entertainment.
Islands of Adventure has Dr. Suess for the little ones and Harry Potter, Kong, Spiderman, and Incredible Hulk rides for the older kids.
Universal Studios boasts Minions, Curious George, E.T., Shrek, and The Simpsons for kids of all ages and Rip Ride Rockit, Men in Black, Race Through New York, Revenge of the Mummy, Transformers, and Harry Potter rides for the thrill-seekers.
Volcano Bay is Universal Studios Orlando’s water theme park. Make sure to bring your swimsuit and extra clothes. They offer splash parks for the munchkins, lots of family-friendly slides, and a few thrill slides like Honu of the Honu ika Moana.
2. Consider A Park-To-Park Ticket
There are a plethora of ticket options available for your stay. You can consider up-to-date ticket package options at Universal Studios Orlando’s website.
When traveling with kids, each park requires a full day, minimum. You can purchase multi-day single-park tickets or park-to-park tickets.
The most important reason to consider the park-to-park ticket is Hogwarts Express. You need a park-to-park ticket to board the train that takes you between Hogsmeade Station on the Island of Adventure and King’s Cross Station in the Universal Studios park.
If you have a Harry Potter fan in your group, you will need to ride the train. It’s a quick ride between the parks and more efficient than walking. The windows have a video scene, so you’ll feel like you are actually riding on the Hogwarts Express. If possible, be the first in your queue so you can sit by the window in your eight-person compartment!
3. Invest In An Express Pass Or Express Unlimited
The Universal Studios Orlando Express Pass and Express Unlimited give you access to shorter lines, decreasing your wait time. The Express Pass allows you to go through the Express Line once for each ride. The Express Unlimited allows for unlimited access to the Express Line.
Most rides offer an Express Line. At this time, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure does not offer an express line, so you need to queue up there early regardless of your pass type.
The premier Universal Studios Orlando Resorts offer Express Unlimited Passes for Island of Adventure and Universal Studio parks with your stay. The premier resorts are Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
For ease, have a lanyard with a clear cardholder to keep your Express Pass handy; you will need it to enter the Express Line each time you ride.
4. Stay At A Universal Resort
There are a lot of great reasons to stay on property. You don’t need a car, and there is a boat/bus transportation network that will deliver you from your hotel to Citywalk and all three parks. All of the hotels offer early admission, which means you can queue up at the popular rides before the general admission guests. Each resort has something special to offer, and you can compare them here.
5. Enjoy A Pool Day
One of the best-kept secrets at Universal Studios Orlando is pool hopping. If you stay at one of the in-park resorts, you can visit any on-property pool. There are some pretty spectacular pools resort-wide. Spending one day just hanging out at the pool is perfect for relaxation and bonding.
All the pools are beautiful, but here are the top three for the kiddos: The Cabana Bay pool is always a hit with the younger set. It has a great slide, a toes-in-the-sand lounge chair section, and cabana rentals. Another beautiful option is the pool at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. The pool is lush with a tropical feel and has the same great amenities. The pool at Loews Portofino Bay Resort is the perfect combination of water fun and first-class amenities, including staff-led games, several smaller pools, and even a hidden tunnel.
Private cabanas are available to rent at most of the resort pools. They come complete with large flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs, snack and bar service, and privacy. If you plan to spend the day at the pool and your young or young-at-heart adventurers need a nap, a private cabana is just the thing.
6. Download The App
A must is downloading the free Universal Studios Orlando app. It will become your best friend! The app allows you to segment categories for the three parks, the hotels, and Citywalk, highlighting only what you want to see. You can check on thrill, 3D, and 4D, water, and kids’ rides, plus dining, events, restrooms, and more.
The app will give you an up-to-the-minute projected wait time for each ride, which can be instrumental in your navigation and planning. Some rides offer Virtual Lines, which allow you to sign up on the app to save a spot for a specific time.
Important features of the map include sorting out dining options and restroom locations. There are loads of restrooms, but they often blend cleverly into the surrounding theme.
7. Make Muggle Magic
Hogwarts colors, robes, scarfs, dress uniforms, and wand-carrying Muggles are everywhere at Universal Studios Orlando. As you pass through the world of Harry Potter and venture down Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, Gringotts, and Ollivanders, you will be enchanted by the magic around you.
There are special places in the wizarding world where even Muggles can recite incantations, swish their wands, and make magic. Throughout the Harry Potter sections, there are special spots that interact with wands purchased from one of the shops. For the little ones, it is pure magic.
Visit Ollivanders for a wand-selecting demonstration. Be sure to ask where some of the secret magic spots are located.
8. Know What To Do About Backpacks And Strollers
Bringing your own stroller is the best scenario. When that isn’t possible, Universal Studios Orlando offers strollers for rent just as you enter the park gates. There are places to park your strollers outside the rides, but don’t leave your valuables there.
Backpacks can be an issue on some rides. You will have to stow your backpack, maybe even your pocketbook, in a locker. This means you need to step out of line, find an available locker, and either get back in line further behind where you started or try to catch up with other members of your party. Either way, it can be a hassle you might want to try to avoid.
Make sure you have a pocket for your phone, too, as most thrill rides will not allow you to hold onto it. On many rides, photography and videography are not allowed. You don’t want to spoil the surprises awaiting the next guest!
9. Utilize The Child Swap Ride Option
This is the greatest thing ever if you have kiddos with you. Many rides offer child swap, which means one adult (or older child) can queue up and enjoy the ride while one stays with the younger child(ren). When they are finished, the adult left with the younger kiddo(s) can swap out and enjoy the ride without standing in line. This is brilliant!
10. Arrange Dining For Everyone
Universal Studios Orlando has multiple dining plans. You can use them at participating restaurants at all three parks and Citywalk. They can be convenient and offer an assortment of choices.
If you are bringing a backpack, pack lots of snacks. Hangry munchkins can ruin an adventure as fast as you can say Wingardium Leviosa.
There are lots of great dining options at Citywalk. They have everything from Burger King to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
11. Make Time For The Parade
Universal Studios Orlando parades are a riot of color, lights, and dancing. You should plan to see at least one during your visit. Check the app for a start time, then find a seat along the curb where everyone can have a great view.
Pro Tip: Write your first name on the back of your ticket and take a picture with your camera. Having a record will help staff assist you if you lose it.
Need a break from the crowds and characters? Pencil in a few of these 11 things to do in Orlando besides visiting theme parks.