Universal Orlando Resort was originally billed as a place where guests could “see the stars and ride the movies”. The resort opened with the Universal Studios Florida theme park in 1990 and debuted as not only a theme park but a working T.V. and film production studio as well. Since those days it’s added a second theme park, seven hotels, a shopping/dining district as well as an immersive water park. There’s even a whole new theme park, Universal’s Epic Universe announced and currently under construction. All of this has led to it becoming a legitimate rival to Walt Disney World and a popular destination for families. Let’s take a look at the basics of planning a vacation to the Universal Orlando Resort.
Universal Orlando Resorts parks consist of the Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks as well as the Volcano Bay water park. The resort’s smaller size compared to Walt Disney World gives it the advantage of being easier to explore and requiring less time to experience. Universal likes to refer to their resort as having a college campus feel. There is really no on-site destination that seems too far away. Guests can easily walk from the front gate of Universal Studios Florida to Islands of Adventure in less than 10 minutes. Each park offers a slightly different atmosphere, but both compliment each other in their fun theming and use of characters and stories.
Universal Studios Florida is created to be a combination of a studio backlot and immersive theme park. Here guests can stroll down recreations of New York’s streets, or visit the waterfront docks of San Francisco. Thrill rides like The Mummy and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit are some of the main attractions here. This park also features the first of two Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas with Diagon Alley.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure was the second park to open at the resort in 1999 and features a theme of exploration inviting guests on an adventure through specially themed islands. Guests can explore the world of comic books at Marvel Superhero Island or interact with fearsome dinosaurs at Jurassic Park. This park also contains the second Wizarding World of Harry Potter land: Hogsmeade and the stunning Hogwarts Castle.
Volcano Bay is Universal’s newest park and brings a new level of storytelling and immersion to water parks. The park is inspired by various Polynesian cultures with all attractions and facilities fitting into that theme. There are rides for all thrill levels as well as water play areas for smaller children. The park is also the first to use a new wristband based system for virtual lines, purchases, and interactive elements. The Tapu Tapu bands are wristbands with small digital screens that can be used to reserve spots in queues, unlock interactive games and hold payment information for shopping.
Universal Orlando Resort features seven on-site hotels broken up into four tiers: Value, Prime Value, Preferred and Premier. While the higher tiers offer greater guest amenities, all on-site hotels offer some of the same perks like free resort transportation and early entry to the parks. The theming varies largely as well from fun and exciting to elegant and relaxed, there’s an option for every family and budget.
Universal’s Endless Summer Resort is the newest and most affordable hotel option currently on property. When completed, the resort will feature two sections, Surfside Inn and Suites, and Dockside Inn and Suites. Both sections offering standard rooms as well as family suites. The first section of the resort, Surfside, opened in June 2019 and features a light beach theme. When the Dockside section opens in 2020, it will feature a calm coastal retreat theming. This is currently the only hotel in the Value category and boasts some of the most affordable rates for suites at any theme park resort. The downside to this hotel is that it’s the farthest from the gates of Universal and CityWalk. Guests can access this area by complimentary bus service.
Universal’s Aventura Hotel is the resorts most innovative and sleek hotel. The theming is modern, stylish and clean. Rooms come equipped with tablets that can control your lights, television, comfort settings and order room service. There’s even a lobby robot that serves mints! Aventura also features a spacious rooftop bar offering some of the best views of the Orlando area. If you time it right you can catch fireworks from a variety of nearby theme parks. This hotel is within walking distance of Volcano Bay and offers complimentary bus service to the parks as well.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a fun and family-centric blast from the past. This hotel is themed around Florida beach resorts of the 50s and 60s. This hotel has two spacious pool areas as well as a relaxing lazy river and a large food court. There are standard rooms as well as suites and rooms offering stunning views of Volcano Bay. Cabana Bay is so close to the water park, there’s a special entrance right next door. Complimentary bus service is offered for access to the other parks.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is currently the only hotel in the Preferred category. This tropical hotel is full of Caribbean vibes featuring a waterfall and beach area. There are many other island touches throughout the resort as well. Sapphire Falls sits along the waterway and offers water taxi service to and from CityWalk where guests can walk to park entrances.
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is probably the most relaxing resort at Universal. This hotel is inspired by the seaside town of Portofino Italy and its classic charm. The hotel is laid out around an open piazza that is lined with a few shops and cafes with a beautiful view of boats in the harbor. Complimentary water taxis are available.
Loews Royal Pacific Resort evokes a luxurious visit to the South Seas. Lush tropical foliage and a beach lined lagoon pool make this hotel one of the most relaxing places to stay. This hotel offers a luau on select nights. The best perk of this and the other two Premier hotels is the free parks Express Pass for the length of your stay allowing you shorter wait times at most attractions. This hotel not only offers the complimentary water taxis but is within walking distance of CityWalk and the parks as well.
Hard Rock Hotel is where you can live like a rockstar in luxurious style among items and artifacts from Rock and Roll history. The hotel itself is modeled after the Eagles Hotel California album cover and features cool decor and fun theming. The resort pools have underwater music and there are even live performances on certain nights. This hotel is the closest to the park entrances and can be walked to in roughly 5 to 10 minutes. There are also complimentary water taxis available.
Tickets and Express Pass
Universal Orlando Resort has a few types of tickets available to guests. You can purchase a single park ticket for entry into one park per day as well as a park to park ticket that will allow you to go between parks at your leisure. If you’re planning on riding the Hogwarts Express between the Wizarding World of Harry Potter locations, you’ll need to park to park ticket to board. There are ticket options including three parks as well as just Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure for families that don’t want to visit Volcano Bay. To cut down on your time spent in line, Universal offers the Express Pass. Much like Disney’s FastPass+ system, this pass allows guests to access many attractions through a shorter line. Express Pass is available as a ticket-add on but it’s also provided for free to guests staying at a Premier-level onsite hotel.
CityWalk is the central hub for Universal Orlando Resort. It lies directly across the water from both park entrances and offers guests many dining, shopping and entertainment options outside of the parks. Here you can find stores selling park merchandise, clothing, and even a tattoo parlor. The area also offers live music venues, mini-golf, and a movie theater. There is no cost to enter CityWalk, but Universal hotel guests do get a few special perks like priority seating at most restaurants.
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