Some information included in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
Ever wonder what it would be like to wander an amusement park and not worry about what direction the munchkins are heading? I love my children, but having fun without them is exhilarating. Universal Studios Orlando is a great place to focus on yourself and enjoy the thrill of being a kid again.
Here are just a few reasons to visit Universal Studios Orlando without the little ones in tow.
1. The Big-Kid Rides Are Top Notch
Let's face it: We go to amusement parks to be amused, and the big-kid rides at Universal Studios Orlando are top notch. There’s always a line for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Why? Because it’s an amazing ride with a few special surprises. Not surprisingly, it was one of our favorites.
If a less stomach-churning (but still thrilling) ride is more your speed, you can enjoy shows like Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon that offer amazing special effects while you remain fairly stable.
My favorite thrill, 3-D, and 4-D rides at Universal Studios include Transformers, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Fast & Furious -- Supercharged, Men In Black Alien Attack, Revenge of the Mummy, and Race Through New York. At the Islands of Adventure, we loved Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and The Incredible Hulk Coaster.
Please note that some of these thrilling rides come with warnings for people with heart issues, abnormal blood pressure, and more. You can find the warning signs posted outside each ride, and the symbol explanations can be found at Universal Studios Orlando’s website.
2. You Can Take Advantage Of The Single-Rider Line
You have to expect lines at Universal -- it’s part of the experience. However, when you don’t have little ones in tow, you can avoid some of that time in line, even without an express pass. Just queue up in the single-rider line. You will most likely not be seated in the same car as your partner, but many times that doesn’t matter, because you are so focused on the amazing entertainment going on around you.
3. You Can Go At Your Own Pace
The beauty of being an empty nester is that you can take it slow if you need to. The parks have lots of places to sit and people-watch. If you are a more active traveler, you can easily get up to 20,000 steps each day wandering the parks and CityWalk.
Most rides are accessible to those with disabilities, and the staff members are extremely helpful. Universal Studios Orlando’s accessibility guide has all the information you’ll need to make your adventure special for all the adults in your party.
4. You Can Skip The Children’s Section
As great as some of the children’s rides are, when you’re on your own, you can skip them or choose just a few. My recommendation would be to ride the Hogwarts Express. It’s a fun way to travel from park to park.
Several rides are worth jumping on if the wait is short. It’s fun to stroll through the children’s sections to see the cute munchkins enjoying the wonderful and imaginative spaces -- particularly when you don’t have responsibility for them!
5. You Can Enjoy The More Mature Side Of The CityWalk
Universal Studios Orlando’s CityWalk changes as the day progresses. In the morning, you will see guests going to Voodoo Doughnut and Cinnabon for breakfast. Midday, you will find families enjoying lunch at all the fun spots, including the Hot Dog Hall of Fame and Lone Palm Airport. During the early evening hours, families munch on dinner at the NBC Sports Grill & Brew and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Around 8 p.m., the early revelers begin heading for Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and Hard Rock Cafe Orlando. By 10 p.m., the Groove and the Red Coconut Club are full of bar-hopping groups and couples. I am told many establishments are open until 2 a.m., but that’s way past my bedtime.
5. Romantic Dinners Are An Option
When you visit Universal Studios Orlando with your partner, you’ll have your pick of romantic places to dine. If you’re looking for something special, try one or all of these options.
The ultramodern Aventura Hotel is home to the rooftop Bar 17 Bistro. Hop on the shuttle bus to the hotel for a pre-dinner cocktail and an amazing view of Orlando, and stay until it’s dark, when the lights of the city make a beautiful backdrop.
A great place for a midday repast is the Hard Rock Hotel. You can catch a shuttle boat at the CityWalk dock. The hotel lobby is spectacular, as is the marble staircase down to the pool. Have a drink poolside at the Beachclub or head to the Velvet Bar for a quieter break.
For fine dining, take the shuttle boat over to the Portofino Hotel, where Bice Ristorante makes the perfect romantic dinner spot. Ask for a table on the patio overlooking the piazza and lagoon. We dined on scallops and filet mignon accompanied by a bottle of prosecco, and it was perfection.
6. You Can Shop To Your Heart’s Content
It’s always a hassle to get shopping done with impatient little ones in tow. On a visit to Universal Studios Orlando without the kids, you can take your time and shop to your heart’s content.
All the souvenirs you’ll need can be found in the parks. Each area has theme-based shops for your browsing pleasure. Need a Hello Kitty accessory? Visit the Hello Kitty shop. Do you collect Christmas items? You’ll love the Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe. If wizarding gear is on your list, visit Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions.
Parks And Passes
One-day passes for one, two, or three parks as well as multiday passes for one, two, or three parks are available with or without express passes. These are just the beginning of the park’s ticket options, however.
Two adults who are capable of walking 10,000 to 20,000 steps each day will likely benefit from a two-day, two-park (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) park-to-park pass. Head to the park early in the morning -- at 8 a.m. if you are staying at a Universal Studios Orlando hotel. After spending several hours there, get lunch and maybe some pool time. Reenter in the late afternoon refreshed for more thrill rides and the evening parade.
The park-to-park pass gives you the option of visiting one park, riding your favorite rides, and then motoring off to another park.
Volcano Bay is an enormous water park with wonderful water rides. If you want to get wet, go for it. If you prefer to stay dry, then I would pass, since it requires an additional park ticket. You can get wet on the Jurassic Park River Adventure at the Islands of Adventure if you want to test your shirt’s wicking properties.
Pro Tip: You’ll need a park-to-park pass to use the Hogwarts Express train between the Hogsmeade Station at the Islands of Adventure park and the King’s Cross Station at Universal Studios. Otherwise, if you want to switch parks, you’ll need to exit one park and walk down the CityWalk to the other park.
Ticket deals are almost always offered, and if you are a Florida resident, you’ll have even more discounts available to you. For up-to-date information regarding tickets, visit the Universal Studios Orlando tickets page.
If you are looking for that special upgrade, I recommend the VIP Tour Experience. The tour is led by a Universal Studios guide who will take you backstage, offer skip-the-line access to some rides, and give you other cool perks.
Universal Orlando Resort App
Before you go, download the free Universal Orlando Resort app -- it will become your best friend! The app allows you to make categories for the three parks, the hotels, and the CityWalk and highlight only what you want to see.
You can check on the status of thrill rides, 3-D and 4-D rides, water rides, children’s rides, 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 planning. Some rides offer virtual lines, where you can sign up for a specific time slot.
On the app, you can check out the available dining options and find nearby restrooms. There are loads of restrooms, but they often blend cleverly into the surrounding theme.
Where To Stay
I recommend staying on property. We used JetBlue Vacations for our airfare and stayed at a Universal Studios hotel. It eliminated all the stress and was a great deal.
There are a lot of reasons to stay on property: You won’t need a car, you’ll have access to a transportation network that will take you from your hotel to the CityWalk, and you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips.
All the on-property hotels offer early admission, which means you’ll get to queue up at the popular rides (think Hagrid’s) before the throngs descend. The premier park hotels offer express unlimited pass upgrades for their guests, which you should keep in mind when you book your hotel. For a complete guide to the hotels, visit the Universal Studios Orlando blog.
Other Travel Tips
Here are a few other things to know before you go.
- If you have an express pass, make sure to keep it on a lanyard. You’ll need to present it in each express pass queue.
- Leave your backpack at home. You will need to put it in a locker for some rides, which is inconvenient.
- Make sure you have a pocket for your phone. You won’t be allowed to hold it in your hand on many rides.
My husband and I enjoyed visiting Universal Studios Orlando as empty nesters. It was fun to laugh, relax, and enjoy each other's company without the kids in tow.
If you’ve decided to take the little ones after all, here’s our guide to visiting Universal Studios with grandchildren.