What It's Like At Universal Studios Orlando | Random Thoughts
Are you thinking of visiting Universal Studios Orlando? Are you thinking of staying a day or two or for a week or longer? This guide will help you to decide how long you would like to stay in Orlando and visit Universal Studios.
I will also explain what parking is like, how to navigate to each park, what would be best to bring into the park and what to leave at home or your hotel room, where to eat, how to navigate if you have a disability, and what time of year is best to visit.
When you first visit the park, you will get into a line to pay for parking. Even if you bought an annual pass, you will have to pay for parking during your first visit no matter what (yeah, I know, what the hell is that claptrap, am I right?).
Parking is free if you visit the park after 6 p.m., so if you're just picking up your annual pass at the park, you could avoid the parking fee on the first day if you visit the park, get the passes, then go on whatever rides are open before the park closes or just go to City Walk.
Regular parking is $26, Prime parking (parking fairly close to the entrance) is $36, and RV/Bus parking is $32. Universal Studios Orlando Hotels have their own parking rates and those rates vary depending on which hotel you are staying at.
Handicapped parking can be obtained by showing the employee at the parking kiosk your handicapped placard or by pointing out your handicapped plates. They will tell you to turn on your hazards and give you a slip of paper for handicapped parking (sometimes they put it under your windshield wiper, but not always). You can then follow the signs for handicapped parking.
Handicapped parking is very close to the entrance to begin walking towards security, but it is still a long way to rent the wheelchairs and electric scooters (ECV), so if someone needs to go ahead and rent you one and come back to get you, you may want to have them do that if you can't walk far. There are moving walkways so you can just stand on those, but they are not always functioning.
How to Get to the Parks:
After you park (if you are coming from the hotels, they can get you to the park by shuttle, by boat, or you can walk), you will head towards security.
The main security hub can be accessed via the parking garages, but there are other small security entrances around the park for hotel guests.
From the main security hub, you will walk onto two moving walkways (or the walkways next to the moving walkways), which will then take you into City Walk. From City Walk, you can either go to the right to enter Universal Studios Florida, or go left and enter Islands of Adventure.
If you want to go to Volcano Bay, you will park in the parking garage and take a shuttle over to Volcano Bay.
What to Bring and What to Leave Behind:
Unless you are going to Volcano Bay or expect to get on a water ride, put sunscreen on before you go and leave it behind (we just put ours in a cooler in our car).
If you are visiting in the spring/summer months, consider bringing a compact solar umbrella. You can use them for blocking the harsh sun as well as the afternoon rain showers that occur almost every day from June until September. I use one every time I go and I have needed it almost every single time.
The umbrellas and ponchos at Universal aren't great quality, are very overpriced, and aren't sold in every store, so you don't want to have to go searching for either in the pouring ass rain.
Bring some small snacks. While you aren't allowed to bring in meals, you can bring in small snacks like chips, pretzels, beef jerky, nuts, etc.. They can tide you over until you get to a place where you can eat a full meal if you don't like the options in the parks or in City Walk.
Bring an extra set of clothes with you if you can and leave it in your car. There's been a bunch of times in the summer, even with umbrellas, that it rains so hard that whenever you walk in the rain it still gets in your shoes and soaks your socks and shoes. It's so nice to have dry clothes to change into in case that happens.
In the summer, we just usually bring socks, some slippers like Adidas slides and shorts and a t-shirt.
In the fall, spring, and winter we bring extra warm clothes because it actually can get cold in Florida. You don't want to be so cold you have to buy a $50 sweatshirt to be able to stay longer.
Bring a small or large Ziploc/Glad freezer bag if you plan on going on a water ride. You want to protect your keys, wallet, phone, etc. and those bags will prevent them from getting damaged.
If you can, leave your phone behind or find a way you can keep your phone, keys, and wallet on you. You have to use lockers to ride a bunch of the rides and the reviews I've read about people getting their valuables damaged or stolen from the lockers makes it seem like you're better off leaving as much as you can at home or in a safe place.
When we use lockers, we just put in our umbrellas and drink cups and keep anything valuable on us. My husband and I share a small wallet, so that makes it way easier to consolidate too.
Where to Eat:
I have to say, a lot of the food I've tried and have seen at the small food and drink stands and sit-down restaurants in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure have been gross.
So far, I've tried a corn dog, Auntie Anne's sugar and cinnamon pretzel, Voodoo Doughnuts, Burger King Whopper Bar, Richter's Burger Co., The Burger Digs, Mel's Drive-In, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Moe's Southwest, Leaky Cauldron, Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour, Mythos Restaurant, Croissant Moon Bakery, and Blondie's.
The best value for food that I've found has been at a small section in City Walk that has a Burger King Whopper Bar, Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches, Voodoo Doughnut, etc. They are still overpriced, but it's more like $10-$15 for a meal and a drink per person rather than $25-$40 per person in a sit-down restaurant.
The Best Places to Eat:
As far as the best places to eat, I really liked Auntie Anne's, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Blondie's, Burger King Whopper Bar, Croissant Moon Bakery, and Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour.
Auntie Anne's pretzels have been fresh and fairly filling, so if you want a decent sized snack, that's a good place to try.
I really liked the burgers at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. I ordered a burger medium rare and it came out medium, but it was still juicy and seasoned well. It was $17 and it came with fries, but you get a discount with your annual pass if you have one.
Blondie's has deli sandwiches and you get a decent amount of deli meat for the price. I got a roast beef combo and I got a good sized sandwich with fresh bread, roast beef, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes, Kettle Salt & Vinegar chips, potato salad and a pickle for $13.49 (before the passholder discount) and I felt like it was a good deal for what I got. I also bought a cookie and they are delicious, so get one of those too. They are huge and come wrapped in saran wrap so you can save it if you can't eat it all.
Burger King is Burger King, so you pretty much know what you're getting if you eat there. The Whopper I had was hot and fresh, but the fries were old and gross, so I'd just get a burger if you're super hungry and skip the fries.
Croissant Moon Bakery has a dessert that is shaped like a diamond and is basically a peanut butter mousse covered in chocolate (I don't remember what it's called) and it is so good. You get a pretty big portion for the price and it's under $5 (and you get a discount if you're a passholder).
Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour is one of my favorites because you get a good amount of ice cream in waffle cone (you can also get sundae's in a dish). My favorite hard-packed ice cream is chocolate and salted caramel blondie. My husband's favorite is strawberry and peanut butter.
The Worst Places to Eat:
The worst places we have eaten at have been Richter's Burger Co., Mythos Restaurant, Mel's Drive-In, and that stand in Island's of Adventure that sold me that disgusting corn dog.
If you like old pork loosely wrapped in cardboard and kept in a lukewarm container for what seemed like three weeks, then that's the corn dog for you. For me though, that's hands-down the worst thing I've eaten at Universal Studios Orlando.
Richter's Burger Co. sells burgers that closely resemble a hockey puck that has been microwaved and covered with easter basket grass, all smashed between two carefully cut out circles of foam from couch cushions. I really don't know how they call that food and the prices are outrageous, so yeah, don't go there.
Mythos Restaurant looks really neat and you get nice views within most of the restaurant of the water, but it's really expensive for some really mediocre food.
We had grilled cheese in tomato soup and even though it sounds like a good idea, it's really bad. The sandwich, of course, gets soggy immediately and the rest of the sandwich is dry and crusty. The cheese they use doesn't melt well and you don't get that much tomato soup.
It's just not worth paying $16 for a crusty, dry grilled cheese and a tiny bit of tomato soup. I wasn't really interested in anything else on the menu as it seemed pretty standard Mediterranean food at an exorbitant price.
Mel's Drive-In had, hands-down, the worst chicken tenders I've ever eaten in my life. They were so dry and overcooked that they were inedible.
Not to mention the park seems to only carry Heinz sauces, so I tried the barbecue sauce and it did not help the desiccated chicken situation.
Against all odds, the Heinz barbecue sauce added a disgusting flavor profile that kind of made me think of a huge vat of barbecue sauce sitting in the hot Arizona sun for a month developing a three foot skin.
Guess what Heinz, your barbecue sauce has won my prize for the worst barbecue sauce ever. Congratulations, you've just won a cease and desist from my stomach lawyer.
If You Have a Disability:
I have a mobility disability and use a brace for support. I can get around the parks for a few hours as long as I take breaks sitting down on benches or on rides. For me, it is a long walk from the parking garages to the parks, so I pick one or two spots ahead of time where I know I can rest if I need to.
Where to Rest:
When entering City Walk, you can sit at some tables up the stairs (or use the elevator near Cinnabon on the lower level to get upstairs) between Voodoo Doughnut and Burger King. The second level near Burger King has a bunch of tables where you can rest if you need to.
There are some brightly colored chairs near Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and benches near BigFire.
In Universal Studios Florida, there are benches along the streets, but there aren't that many. If there aren't any benches available, I will sit on steps near empty shops.
Make sure if you see an empty bench and you know you'll need a rest soon to just take your rest a little sooner than you need to so you don't have to stand or walk when you're exhausted.
If you are using an electric scooter or wheechair, bring something to cover your head in the summer. If you can't use a solar umbrella, wear a wide-brimmed hat that will cover your head and face and use sunblock of at least 50 SPF. There's not a lot of shade at Universal Studios and you could burn very quickly.
In Islands of Adventure there are not a lot of benches but there are areas where there is seating around the foliage. They look like a wall of flat rocks and you can sit there if you need a rest.
I would recommend either going to Universal when it's not busy, using your express pass after 4 p.m. for annual passholders, or buying express passes so you don't have to stand very long.
Even if you are using a wheelchair or electric scooter, I've seen on some rides where the employees make someone get out of their assistive device and walk some distance to get on a ride, so be certain you can walk and stand short distances.
Going when it isn't busy or using an express pass can ensure you won't have to walk or stand very long.
As a general rule, I won't get in line without an express pass if the line is over 15 minutes because it hurts me to stand that long.
Think about what you can handle and how it will affect you over the entire day. You don't want to wear yourself out or be in so much pain from standing too long and not be able to do anything else the rest of the day.
Waiting times for rides change constantly, so you can go to certain rides with shorter wait times and come back to another one later.
Some of the simulation rides can be rough, so make sure you read the warnings ahead of time at the entrance of the ride and in the ride lines. I think the biggest things to note are if you have neck, back, or hip injuries because some of the rides can jostle you around significantly.
When Should You Visit?
The best times to visit are when it isn't hot and when it isn't busy (duh, right?).
In the fall, Halloween Horror Nights runs from September to the very beginning of November, with the busiest times being in October. The weather is more tolerable towards the middle of October, so if you can visit earlier in the day (before 6 p.m.), you'll avoid the biggest crowds in October.
The beginning to middle of November is a good time because no one really visits until around Thanksgiving, then the beginning of December to the middle of December is not as bad (around Christmas is really busy though, especially in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas of the parks).
The first week of January is usually busier because of New Year's Day, but the rest of January until about mid-March is a great time to visit because the weather is really nice, there's not a lot of rain, and it's not usually very busy.
Mid-March to mid-April is busier because of spring break and Easter.
Mid-April until the end of May isn't as busy, but it does start to get warmer.
May until the end of August is usually busy and very hot, so in my opinion, if you can, try to go during the other times of the year.
I hope you liked this guide to Universal Studios Orlando. Do you have any tips you'd like to share? What new information did you discover in this post? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!