Universal Orlando is the perfect one day stop to add to the end of a longer vacation or to visit when the kids have a few days off of school. Unlike Disney World and other larger theme parks, it's possible to fully experience all the main attractions at Universal in one day. Thiscomprehensive plan that my family uses ensures you experience the best that the park has to offer.
A good option is to stay in one of Universal's three deluxe on-site hotels. These include Loews Royal Pacific Resort, the Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. While it may be more expensive than other options, staying the night in one of these hotels before you head to the parks in the morning provides three elements that are very helpful.
First of all, you have access to the water taxi that will provide no-stress transportation. You don't need to worry about parking, and taking a relaxing boat ride along the river is a great way to start the day.
Secondly, you receive free Universal Express Unlimited ride access. This is central to the plan, allowing entry to a special line for rides that makes the wait time bearable even when crowds are thick. Make sure to use it on any ride that has the option.
Lastly, the on-site hotels provide Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World one hour before the park opens to the public. Hogsmeade gets incredibly crowded during the day, so this hour is invaluable for seeing the wonders it has to offer.
There are also may other hotel options around the parks and this plan will be helpful regardless of where you stay. Choose the hotel that works best for you! Just keep in mind that this plan uses services available to on site guests so you'll need to adjust accordingly.
Another thing you will need is a Park-to-Park admission ticket. Universal has two sections: Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Since you only have one day, you're going to want this ticket to experience both. A Park-to-Park ticket is also required to ride the Hogwarts Express as it takes you from one park to the other.
After checking in at the hotel the night you arrive, remember to find one of the kiosks located in the lobby where you can print out your photo Express Pass so you don't have to worry about doing it in the morning. Its also a good idea to ask where the water taxi picks up so you can find it easily. Before you settle down in bed, remember to set your alarm. Make sure you have enough time to get ready before catching the 7:00am water taxi the next morning. Remember to bring your Express Pass and room key with you.
The water taxi will drop you off at City Walk. You'll want to send half of your party to Islands of Adventure to save a place in the front of the line. The other half of your party can stop at Cinnabon, Starbucks, or another place and pick up breakfast to eat while you're waiting. Alternatively you can bring something to eat at your hotel in the morning. You won't want to waste time stopping for food once you enter the park. Make sure you're finished eating and ready to go when the gate opens at 8:00.
Islands of Adventure
When you get to the Wizarding World, head straight to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is located inside the castle. At this point there will be virtually no line, but remember to slow down and admire the details put into the castle as you walk through. If you like the ride, I suggest riding it again while lines are still short.
If you are interested in getting a wand from Ollivander's, that should be your next stop. This is the only store that can accumulate an extremely long line, so it is best to go before the park is open to the public. After or in place of visiting Ollivander's, you can ride the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. It should be about time for the rest of the park to open when you get off the ride. If you still have some time relax and look around the shops, pick up a Butterbeer, ride the kiddy coaster Flight of the Hippogriff, or get on Dragon Challenge again.
As soon as the rest of the park is open, you should head to the super hero section of the park for a frenzy of riding some of my favorite rides Universal has to offer. Start with the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, then The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man and Dr. Doom's Fearfall right after. If you like them, make sure to ride them all a second time. As it's getting closer to mid-day, it should start getting pretty hot depending on when you visit. Cool off by riding Jurassic Park River Adventure. This ride is not to be missed, but you will get wet!
When you're done it should start getting more crowded. If there are any minor rides with shorter lines you're interested in, ride them now. Take this time to do any shopping you need to, whether it's in the Wizarding World or the rest of the park. After you've finished your shopping, get in line for the Hogwarts Express which will take you to Universal Studios Florida.
Finish up any more shopping you need to, such as souvenirs from Diagon Alley, before you grab some lunch. You can stop anywhere in the park that looks good, but we recommend exiting the park and finding a place in City Walk or catching a water taxi back to your hotel for a break from the crowds. If you stop at your hotel, you can drop off your bags and take a quick swim in the pool.
Universal Studios Florida
After you finish your relaxation, head back into Universal Studios Florida. This should be around 2:00 in the afternoon. Now is the time to do another ride frenzy starting with Transformers: The Ride, followed by Revenge of the Mummy and Men in Black: Alien Attack. As before, if you like a ride make sure to give it a second pass! Next up is another one of my favorites, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. Ride it a few times before going to Diagon Alley for dinner at the Leaky Cauldron.
After you've eaten, get in line for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. The line should be shorter now that it's getting later and some people have left the park. When you get off, feel proud that you've completed an epic day at Universal. What to do with any remaining time before closing is up to you. Redo your favorite attractions in Universal Studios Florida, or head back to Islands of Adventure on the Hogwarts Express and spend some time there.
Remember, the best thing for the success of any plan is flexibility. Things are going to go wrong, it's just a matter of when and how much. Sometimes the bad things can turn into the best memories! Feel free to take this plan and make it your own- a perfect day at Universal is different for every person. Stop and get a tasty snack you saw or hop on a ride that has a short wait, even if they're not in the plan. Enjoy your trip!