Written by Megan duBois, Theme Park Journalist
Universal Orlando Resort is a sprawling space with two of the most exciting theme parks in the country! Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure offer you the opportunity to step into your favorite movies to fight dragons, save E.T., and swing with Spider-Man®. Thinking about going to Universal Orlando Resort? Well, I have some first-hand tips before you go – even if you’re like me and only spending one day there!
Consider Buying an Express Pass
If you only have one day at Universal Orlando Resort and really want to experience as much as possible, consider purchasing a Universal Express Pass. This front-of-the-line pass works for most of the attractions at both parks and is a real timesaver. There are two levels of Universal Express Pass: Universal Express Pass allows you to ride each participating attraction one time by going through the Universal Express Pass line, while Universal Express Unlimited allows you to ride each participating attraction unlimited times by going through the Universal Express Pass line.
For my experience, I used the Universal Express Unlimited. But, if you’re on more of a budget, the Universal Express Pass works as well! I estimated that I saved nearly three hours by not waiting in the standby line and, instead, using my Universal Express Pass. The real timesaver was inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™. This is one of the most popular areas at both Universal Orlando Resort parks, so the lines for each of the attractions get long.
Start Early and Stay Late
To really get the most out of your day at Universal Orlando Resort, start early and stay late. Usually, the parks open at 9 a.m., so get there a little before to beat the lines. I arrived around 8:30 a.m. to Universal Orlando Resort, grabbed my ticket, and ate breakfast at the new TODAY Cafe all before 9:15 a.m.! You can either grab a quick breakfast item like one of their delicious vegan elderberry croissants, or taste their Al’s avocado toast – which I heard a lot about before I arrived. To my delight, both were amazing and I highly recommend stopping by for a quick, casual breakfast or lunch!
One of my best tips is to stay as late at the parks as you can. You can experience more and the crowds typically start to thin out as it gets later in the night. Please note there are two nighttime shows at Universal Orlando Resort, and that can cause a bit of a crowd near where the shows are presented. The first show is Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration at Universal Studios Florida around the lagoon on select nights. I suggest staying at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ - Diagon Alley™ during the show for a minimal wait on attractions and a great nighttime walk through the truly immersive land. The second show is The Nighttime Lights At Hogwarts™ Castle at Islands of Adventure’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ - Hogsmeade™ shown throughout the night. I also suggest going to the Marvel Super Hero Island® section of the park to try out The Incredible Hulk Coaster® at night!
Grab a Reservation for Lunch
One of the best ways to take a little break is to grab lunch at a table-service restaurant. One of my favorite spots, and where I decided to pull up a seat, was The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen! Located at Universal CityWalk and relatively close to Universal’s Islands of Adventure, this restaurant is the perfect halfway point to visit after a morning at Universal Studios Resort.
When I walked into The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, I was greeted with the smell of chocolate and a massive case of delicious-looking desserts. I was then taken to my table upstairs, which had a great view of Universal CityWalk.
The menu at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium is extensive and can be a bit overwhelming. If you’re unsure of what to order, the waitstaff at the restaurant are very knowledgeable and willing to give suggestions. I wanted to get a taste for everything, so I ordered an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Trust me, everything was delicious.
To start off, I had the tatchos, which are tater tots, spicy green chili, crispy pork belly, andouille sausage, and cheddar cheese sauce. This was big enough to be a meal by itself or a great appetizer to share. The green chili really cut through the cheddar cheese sauce, and the pork belly was a great addition.
For the entrée, I got the southern fried chicken BLT, which consisted of a crispy boneless chicken breast, sliced tomatoes, butter bibb lettuce, bacon, and Dijon mustard – all on a toasted brioche bun! Even with the fried chicken, the sandwich wasn’t too heavy and was super tasty on a hot, rainy Florida day.
You can’t go to a place called a chocolate emporium without getting something sweet! I recommend the flourless chocolate cake. The fudge-like cake was served warm with Nutella ice cream and drizzled with a sweet, tangy raspberry sauce. If you only go to The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium for dessert, you must try this one!
What to Bring
Even though Universal Orlando Resort has just about everything you could want or need at a theme park, there are a few essentials you should bring with you in your backpack. I always bring a refillable water bottle. It gets very hot in Florida and staying hydrated is key to enjoying the parks for ten or more hours. Also, bring a rain jacket or a few disposable ponchos. It rains almost every day from May through October in Central Florida, so packing ponchos is a great way to stay dry and avoid lugging around an umbrella for a few splash and dash showers. These are definitely the best essentials to bring. Not only will they save you money, but they’ll make the day a bit easier when things don’t go as planned.
What I Did in Nine Hours
8:45 a.m.- Park and arrive at Universal Studios Florida
9 a.m.- Breakfast at TODAY Cafe
9:45 a.m.- Revenge of the MummyTM with Universal Express Pass
10:15 a.m.- E.T. Adventure with Universal Express Pass
10:30 a.m.- MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack™ with Universal Express Pass
11:10 a.m. - Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™ with Universal Express Pass
12 p.m.- Butterbeer™ ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour
12:30 p.m.- E.T. Adventure with Universal Express Pass
1:30 p.m.- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon with Universal Express Pass
2 p.m.- Lunch at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen
3:30 p.m.- Arrive at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
3:35 p.m.- Ride The Incredible Hulk Coaster® with Universal Express Pass
4 p.m.- Ride Jurassic Park River Adventure™ with Universal Express Pass
4:30 p.m.- Ride Flight of the Hippogriff™ with Universal Express Pass
4:45 p.m.- Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™
5 p.m.- Grab a frozen Butterbeer™
5:15 p.m.- Ride The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!™ with Universal Express Pass
5:45 p.m. - Exit Universal’s Islands of Adventure and leave Universal Orlando Resort
Note: You can definitely do more, but the rain closed the majority of the rides that day so I didn’t stay until park close
Bonus: What to Expect from the New Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure™
Now at Universal Orlando Resort, you can experience Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure™ at Universal’s Islands of Adventure! The new coaster has the most launches of any coaster in the world and the longest track in the state of Florida! I had the opportunity to walk through the queue and actually ride the attraction and it’s AWESOME!
The story is set in the Forbidden Forest where some of Hagrid’s magical creatures are present. You’ll encounter unicorns, Cornish pixies, and so much more! The ride is almost three and a half minutes long and launches guests at over 50 mph. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure has some of the most creative ride vehicles I’ve ever seen. Choose between a motorcycle or side car, both of which give riders a different experience. The motorcycle sits about six inches higher than the side car and allows guest to envision themselves as Hagrid. The side car is a much cozier experience, allowing guests to feel like a young Harry Potter riding alongside Hagrid.