The Ultimate Guide to Universal Studios Florida
The wildest rides, best restaurants, and more to check out.
There's a lot more to Universal Orlando than wizards and wands. Yes, Potter stans should 100% visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s so fantastic, in fact, we have an entire deep-dive guide dedicated to it, so put on your Sorting Hat and be sure to check that out.
Other than hanging with Harry and the wiz kids, Universal is stocked with classic rides and movie experiences to fawn over, easter-egg laden queues, cheekily themed bars and restaurants, dancing lemurs, velociraptor attacks, Sideshow Bob's attempt at revenge, immersive resorts with cushy parental draws, and the pride you feel when you max out the score (999,9999) on Men in Black Alien Attack, which is allegedly possible. With dozens of adventures on deck, here’s everything you need to know about the best rides, places to eat and drink, money-saving tips, and helpful things to keep in mind during your next visit to Universal Studios Florida.
Making sense of the map
But first, what’s the difference between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure?
Universal Orlando comprises three unique theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. Just outside the parks, there's also Universal’s City Walk, where you'll find restaurants and shops galore.
Universal Studios features classic rides and attractions centered around the magic of the movies. It's all about up close and personal attractions like the Bourne Stuntacular stunt show, the highly animated Simpsons experience, and getting lost in New York with Jimmy Fallon. And inside Harry Potter’s dedicated universe, you'll find enchanted enticements like Diagon Alley and the Escape From Gringotts ride.
Islands of Adventure focuses on fantasy and thrill rides. It’s home to some of the company’s newest roller coasters, three of the four Wizarding World rides, a host of Jurassic Park attractions, a Marvel (but, mind you, not MCU) land, and a couple of water rides. Volcano Bay, on the other hand, is Universal's water park, which—dare we say—made a splash when it debuted in 2017 .
Note that each individual park requires a separate ticket and entrance fee. Depending on the time of year and the desired park, ticket prices range from $109 to $152 for a one-day, one-park adult ticket. But you can often get a better deal if you buy tickets that cover more than one day or more than one park at a time. Annual passes, which run between $399.99 and $714.99 per person, can also be tailored to your specific needs, whether you’re looking to ball out with year-round access to all the parks plus plenty of membership perks or prefer to stick to a more wallet-friendly limited schedule. However, if you only have the time and money to hit up a single park, you better choose wisely, my friend.
The best rides at Universal Studios Florida
One thing Universal’s got going for it over that other Orlando amusement park (ahem) is that there are some pretty legitimately heart rate-amplifying rides. Of course, there’s plenty of kid-friendly stuff too, plus some old classics (including the E.T. Adventure, God bless its ancient animatronic soul). Here’s the cream of the stomach-churning crop.
Jurassic World Velocicoaster: Dropping in June, 2021, this is the newest ride on the roster. The Jurassic World-themed coaster features the steepest drop of any Universal ride, two launches that catapult you at speeds of 70 mph in just 2.4 seconds, multiple inversions, and an intense barrel-roll at the end. The concept revolves around a pre-Indominus Rex disaster Jurassic World theme park, and the latest ride takes place inside the velociraptor paddock. The ride manages to match the intensity of its conceit, and it may just be the best coaster in the entire park.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts: It’s not a visit to Universal Studios without The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, amirite? This particular joint is an indoor-simulated roller coaster combo, but it won’t disappoint. You’ll join Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they attempt to navigate the bank’s tight security and escape from their nemeses’ grasp.
Waiting in line is almost as exciting as the ride itself, as this is one of the most intricate waiting areas you'll find. And once you venture outside after the ride comes to a stop, be sure to look up and wait about 10 minutes until you see the dragon roar and spit out fire over Diagon Alley.
Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure: The Hogwarts gamekeeper is the centerpiece of the most recent addition to the Wizarding World, and it's the best The Wizard World has to offer. The open-air coaster has you hop aboard a motorcycle with only a lap restraint—which leaves you feeling a bit like this couldn't possibly be safe. Before you know it, you're rocketed forward into the Forbidden Forest teeming with magical creatures, through fog banks that hide what's coming next, and down to a free-fall onto another track. Like most of the Harry Potter rides, there's a lot to see along the queue, making the long lines just a little more bearable.
The Incredible Hulk Coaster: This ride is themed after the Hulk, obviously, but it's really just an excuse to give you a wild, high-flying roller coaster experience. It kicks off with a huge loop and only gets better from there. Like Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure and the Velocicoaster, you're probably looking at some of the longest lines in the park, but it's absolutely worth the wait.
Men in Black Alien Attack: Nestled somewhere between The Wizarding World and Springfield: Home of the Simpsons, Alien Attack is easily overlooked—but, real talk, this is the most underrated ride in all of Universal.
This competitive ride-and-shoot combo is unlike anything else in the park, and there are a few secret tricks that'll help you get a higher score than your buds. You’ll rack up more points if you shoot the aliens that are hiding in windows or behind trees. And you can also earn an extra 100,000 point bonus. At the end, once you see the big monster, listen carefully to the speakers in your seat and press the red button before anyone else in your car. There are no bonus points, unfortunately, for knowing all the words to the Will Smith song.
Jurassic Park River Adventure: An oldie, yes. But a goodie? Indeed. This classic water ride came on the scene in 1999, touting what was then the largest water drop in theme park history, and has been soaking and scaring thrill-seekers ever since. The traditional flume setup starts out calmly in a lovely, peaceful dinosaur-strewn environment, which quickly falls to pieces a la the original film’s plot line. In a blink of an eye, your boat veers off course, hurtling through spooky canals and coming face-to-face with an angry Tyrannosaurus rex before eventually plunging 85 feet down into the immensely splashy safety of a landing pool.
Always conquer the outdoor rides first
Among the many things non-Floridians can’t seem to grasp about the Sunshine State is the fact that there ain’t a whole lot of sunshine around 3 pm. In the summer months, Orlando’s tropical weather often results in a regularly scheduled afternoon downpour.
If your heart’s set on outdoor rides like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit or Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, then make sure you knock them out earlier in the day. The rides will shut down if there's lightning within five miles of the park, so you may be impacted even if there aren’t any rain clouds directly overhead.
Not all rides are acceptable for little kids
Several Universal attractions won’t allow children under 40 inches (about three feet) on board. Luckily, Universal’s Child Swap program provides a nifty workaround for families. Basically, Adult #1 waits with the too-short kid (aw) in a designated area, while Adult #2 and the tall-enough kid enjoy the ride. Once they're done, Adult #1 can swap in for their turn—without having to wait in line again. Here’s the list of rides that currently offer rider swap.
The best times to visit are during school hours
While summer might seem like an obvious time to go, we’d recommend avoiding the June through August megacrush. Crowds are at their worst, and it’s Florida’s hottest, muggiest, steamiest time of year.
Instead, go right after school starts in September and October, when you’ll catch some amazing Halloween Horror Nights decorations and attractions. Or try popping down in April and early May before school ends (just avoid Easter weekend). Prices vary, but single-park tickets are often cheaper on weekdays than on weekends.
Splurge on the Universal Express Pass
It’s a good idea to shell out some extra bucks for the Universal Express Pass ($89.99 if you want express access just once per ride, $119.99 if you want unlimited express access). It allows you to bypass a huge chunk of the regular line on almost any ride, saving you a lot of time even during the off-season.
Consider riding solo
If you don't go for the Express Pass, look for "single rider" signs on rides. It's not always clearly marked, but many rides have a separate line for singletons. If you're willing to be split up from your group to fill in seating gaps on rides, this option will get you to the front of the queue in no time. Sometimes, it's just as fast as Express Pass.
Travel between parks smartly (and in style)
If you've got a multi-park pass for both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, you'll find that it's a bit of a walk between the two if you're going to hoof it. (It's manageable, but let's be honest, you've been walking all day and want to take every shortcut you can find.)
That's why the Hogwarts Express is your best friend. The Harry Potter centerpiece is the easiest way to move between the two parks, but it's only accessible if you have a pass for both since it starts in one and ends in another. It runs in both directions with endpoints in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, the two Wizarding World areas at Universal.
Bring your own reusable water bottle
This is probably the best way to save money at Universal Orlando. It’s Florida, it’s hot, you’ll get thirsty. Thanks to a plethora of public water fountains and free ice water accessible through vendors and soda machines, visitors can save upwards of $50 on bottled water just by taking advantage of this simple (and environmentally friendly) hack.
Stay at one of Universal’s hotels for easy access and special offers
It’s certainly not the cheapest option, but it’s definitely the most convenient. Staying at one of the Universal hotels (such as Loews Sapphire Falls Resort or the shiny new Endless Summer Resorts) can save you a ton of time. With the hot Florida sun and near-constant walking, it’s especially satisfying to get to the park early, leave around lunchtime for a break and a cat nap, and come back in the early afternoon to stay ‘till closing. This helps you avoid a lot of the big lines that tend to form around midday, plus you can save some money by eating outside of the park.
Many hotels have special offers, such as early-morning access to the parks and direct access to Universal CityWalk via boat or bus. Of course, there are also other (usually more affordable) options nearby, like the Holiday Inn & Suites Across From Universal and the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando. Just be prepared to spend time in morning traffic getting to the park. Speaking of which…
If you’re driving in, prepare to pay for parking
Traffic gets especially hectic in the later morning, from around 10 am through noon. And parking near the attractions doesn’t come cheap: $27 for regular parking and $60 for prime parking. There’s also valet service, which costs $27 for two hours, and a designated pick-up/drop-off location for rideshares. If you're at one of the Universal resorts, however, free shuttle buses will take you to and from the park and are available every 15 to 30 minutes, all day long.
Where to eat and drink in Universal Studios
Best for lunch: Moe’s Tavern
Located in Springfield, USA: Home of The Simpsons
For the best lunch with the most options (read: if you’re accompanied by picky eaters or you, yourself, are said picky eater), head straight for Fast Food Boulevard in Springfield. Alongside classic dishes from The Simpsons at Moe’s Tavern, there’s also a Krusty Burger and Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck.
Best for dinner: Finnegan’s or Today Cafe
Located in Universal Studios’ New York
Finnegan’s is a traditional Irish-American pub offering comforts like Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, and Guinness Beef Stew. The Today Cafe, stashed near the entrance to Universal Studios Florida, plays The Today Show on big screens set to studio lighting. Here you’ll find New American fare like cauliflower crust flatbreads and fresh salads plus New York-inspired favorites like sandwiches piled high with sliced pastrami.
Best for a refreshing adult beverage: Duff Brewery
Located in Springfield, USA: Home of The Simpsons
You can’t mention drinking in Universal without giving props to Springfield’s own Duff Brewery. It’s got an open-air bar with lots of seating, though it may not be the best place to park it if you’re looking for a break from the afternoon rain. There are beautiful waterfront tables with umbrellas where you can sip your way through the famed brewery’s sudsy lineup.
Best for a sweet treat: Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour
Located in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Do not, we repeat: Do NOT even think about going anywhere else for dessert at Universal. Located inside Diagon Alley across from the Gringotts ride, this ice cream parlor serves a wide variety of flavors of the good stuff, including specials like Butterbeer and Sticky Toffee Pudding, plus a damn good soft serve.
Don’t forget about all the great restaurants at Universal CityWalk
Of course, there are some fantastic restaurants in Orlando outside of Universal, such as Santiago’s Bodega. But you don’t necessarily have to travel that far for delicious eats. If you’re sticking close to Universal property, check out places like VIVO Italian Kitchen, the upscale restaurant Bigfire, and The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, where fans of surf ’n turf will be pleasantly surprised by the weird and exciting fusion creations. There's also the world's first Burger King Whopper Bar, with a menu you surely won’t see at any normal ol’ Burger King. (Keep in mind that this is Universal, so don't mistake "fast food" for "low-cost.")
Gear up for the highly anticipated Epic Universe expansion
While the last few pandemic-strewn years haven’t exactly been the most fruitful when it comes to new rides at Universal, the future's looking brighter than the Golden Snitch on gameday. A massive new sister park is currently in development, set to take park-goers by storm in 2025. The full plans for Universal’s Epic Universe remain a bit of mystery, but word on the street is that it will encompass at least four new themed lands plus an entertainment center, hotels, shops, restaurants, and more. Rumored sections include Super Nintendo World, stocked with primed attractions like Yoshi’s Adventure and an IRL Mario Kart ride. Keep an eye on Universal Orlando’s website for key updates as they drop.