Insiders Tips for Universal Orlando! [itinerary]


Now that summer is upon us, I keep getting asked, do you have any other vacation plans?   Well, let me tell you….{wink}   I’m taking my family to Universal Studios Orlando for the Forward Family Event hosted by Mom It Forward for the second year in a row because we enjoyed ourselves so much last year.  If you are considering a family vacation, and have kids, let me recommend going to Universal Studios.  Here are some incredible insider tips that you’ll want to know about before you plan your family vacation this summer to Universal Orlando Resort.

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1. Pay Attention to the Height Requirements!

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Getting all the way to the ride just to find out your excited little one can’t ride… is a real downer.  I found this Universal Studios with Kids free printable that will take the guess work out of rides and restrictions for you.  It’s fabulous.  Print it out and take it with you.

2. Here’s How to Avoid the Lines:

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Now, here’s the deal.  You have to purchase express passes separately from your park pass (UNLESS you stay at a hotel on Universal Studios property), but they are worth it.  You do not want to get stuck in a long line with and waste precious time with your kiddos! You can see all of my Top 5 Perks of a Hotel Key in my quick video here.

Plan your trip, if possible to avoid peak season.  September is generally a good time of year to visit.  Parks are busier around the holidays and school breaks.

Take advantage of the child swap program that Universal offers.  Each ride and attraction has a child swap area where one member of your party can wait with the little ones while the rest of your party rides. Once they are off the ride, swap places and whoever rode can stay with the kids while the adult(s) who sat out gets the opportunity to enjoy the ride. The best part about the child swap is that they are usually indoors! {snicker} So, your little ones get a nice cool down period with a TV and some play time while they wait! You can also utilize these areas if one of your kiddos decides at the last minute that they don’t want to ride.

3. Character Meet and Greets!


Be sure to check out the Universal Studios map for places and times where you can get photos of the characters.  I’ve found that the meet and greets are always a highlight for my kiddos!

More Insider Tips {woo hoo!}

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4.  Be a Single Rider

If you are 10 years or older, then you have the option of grabbing a quicker spot as a “single rider”. Since most people ride in groups of two or more, if there is an extra spot available the attendants will ask for a single rider and you’ll be able to skip ahead in the line.

5.  Start in the Back of the Park

To Ride.  Most guest generally arrive to the park in the morning, so a good strategy is to start in the back of the park and make your way to the front. After 4pm the park tends to clears out a bit. Also, most people tend to travel on Sunday, therefore Sunday’s are not as crowded and a great day to play at the parks. Late afternoon tends to be a quieter time in the park, but again that can change from day to day. That is why staying on-site helps – you can come and go easily back and forth depending on the day and the weather (and the mood of your children).

To Eat.  Most guest generally arrive to the park in the morning, so restaurants further back in the park will be busier at lunch as guests make their way around the park. Also, any restaurant appealing to children will be busier right around those times of the day that they generally eat lunch at home or school.

24 Universal Studios Ride and Insiders SecretsWe’ve gone as a family 5 times as it’s the only vacay where everyone is always happy.  {snicker}

6.  How to Plan Your Itinerary to Universal

Charlotte asked me on Facebook if I had the best itinerary for a 8 and 10 year old who are all over 48″ tall as it’s their first time going to Universal and are staying 4 days and 3 nights at Universals Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  As y’all know I absolutely adore Universal and our family has been many times below are the suggestions I offered her. Hopefully they will help you too!  {high fives}

Charlotte ~ That’s such a great age to go! Lucky Duck. The reason I don’t have an itemized itinerary is because it’s too difficult to make one that addresses every family.  Be sure to keep in mind your specific families…

  • ages
  • ride excitement levels
  • height requirements
  • personality types
  • emotional needs
  • interests

However, with that said here’s how I have planned our 5 trips to Universal to create some our best family vacations.  It has worked every time for our high maintenance family as we have ones with major sensory issues, concrete thinkers, and special needs.  {wink}  These are tried and true, girl.

Step 1:  Character Rides

Make a list of your kids favorite character rides. Find out intensity levels. Will they want this more than once?  My boys like Islands of Adventure the best. So we hit Spider-Man and Transformers 4x each! {min} which means you avoid during rain ~ cuz everyone is in there waiting. And you plan meals around that section, cuz you’ll be there a lot. Ha!!

Step 2. Figure out the weather

Will it rain in the afternoons? Cuz everything outdoors shuts down when it does.  If it rains your resort has great indoor stuff like bowling. Make sure you plan for indoor things to break up the heat, rain, and allow for rest.

Mornings:  It’s best to plan Harry Potter and outdoor rides in mornings.  Harry Potter world must be done at 8:00am… meaning you arrive in the line to get in before 7:30am. Otherwise the lines are horrific and you’ll spend the entire morning doing 2 rides.

When it rains:  Men in Black or Mummy is a great place to be when it rains. People forget how awesome those rides are. But make sure Mummy isn’t too scary ~ it’s a wooden track and can be jerky even though it’s not a fast ride.

Step 3. What are your families emotional needs?

The biggest thing is to be aware of what your kids need emotionally & physically. Don’t over extend them. And give them a lot of what they want. If they want Spider-Man 4 times ~ then that’s more important than 12 hours waiting in line for Harry Potter.

Do your kids get cranky if there’s too much? If so break up the day up! Don’t do too much in the mornings if it makes the afternoon horrific. Instead, use the free water taxi’s to go back to your hotel to bowl, rest, or do an indoor activity.  If not, go full throttle!

My youngest likes the Animal Show so we usually hit that around 2:00 when we all need to sit. This is a great place to go if it rains. There’s lots of food and drinks close by. The animal show is adorable. I’ve seen it 6 times and still enjoy it. {bring snacks and water ~ no a/c}

Do your kids love to play in the water or do they hate being wet all day? This is a biggie for our family.  Universal has some amazing water rides but my kids have sensory issues and refuse to stay wet.  So none of those rides make our list and we avoid them.  However, if your young ones are the opposite then there are some crazy fun little spots where they can play in a bit of water along the route.  So keep this in mind if you’re going when it’s super hot.  Especially if where you live is generally cool cuz Orlando is SO FLIPPING HOT AND HUMID.  It takes a lot out of ya as a parent if you aren’t used to the weather.

None of my boys like the Simons ride. It wigs out their sensory issues. So be aware of that. That ride ruined our afternoon one year and made me sick.

Step 4.  Plan to Play Along Your Route

Figure out height requirements and ride excitement levels for your kids favorite character rides and then plan out your route.  I lay out some cool insider secrets to a few of the Universal Studios rides and how to avoid lines at Harry Potter World with probably more information you want to know.

A cautionary tale… what you don’t want is to roam the park going from one must-do ride to another. We did that our 3rd and 5th trip cuz we thought we knew everything and it’s miserable. {bwaahaa!}  One kid wanted this ride and another ride.  So absolutely have a tentative schedule. This way you aren’t at Hogwarts and need to be on the other side of the park for the Animal show and then need to be back to Transformers. It’s too much walking and not enough playing. So balance here is key. You want to play along the route and not zig zag the parks.

Step 5.  Decide on express passes and a meal plan

These are both personal choices and depend on the needs of your family and your budget.  As I’ve mentioned, our boys are pretty high maintenance and tough to please due to sensory and neurological stuff.  So for us it is easier to bring 1 sinch sac and go!  Nothing to hold us back, worry about being stolen, or have to put in a locker.

We decided not to bring a cooler, more than 1 bag, or extra food and instead get the express passes and meal plan.  For our family the extra money made the entire trip so much more enjoyable for us as parents.  It was significantly less stress, less complaining from the boys, and less we had to deal with physically… which made it less stressful emotionally. Our first trip we had all the gear, a stroller, several bags, food, drinks, etc.  We were a walking circus.  The second trip… we had 1 sinch sac.  It was heaven.  Jason and I felt like we had more physical strength and a lot less burden.

In a nutshell, I don’t have the specifics on what meal plan we used as it changes.  However, in my opinion it was worth it for a family of 5.  The drink refills are a must as it was a so flipping hot when we go.  You can even get icees.  {squeal in delight}  So we would buy several, pour out what they didn’t drink, then dump the empty ones back in our small sinch sac.  It was zero weight and easy peasy.

Step 6:  What To Plan Ahead

I lay out tons of great hacks on how to plan Universal ahead of time, where to stay, how to save money, and what to know before you go.  I hope this is what you were looking for and feel free to ask your questions in the comments below. I’m happy to help out and share my tips and tricks.  That’s what I love to do.  {high fives}

A huge thanks to Universal Orlando Resort for putting the fun back into a family vacation!  We love spending time there!

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Laurie Turk the Tip Junkie
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Difficulty Cost Time Age Person Event
-- Over $100
Long Term
-- Anyone