The Universal Orlando Resort consists of two separate gated theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, as well as the Universal Citywalk entertainment complex. Each park is easily a full-day adventure, and in fact, it would take several days to see both parks fully. Nonetheless, if you have only one day, it is entirely possible to see the highlights of both parks. A touring plan must be followed carefully in order to achieve this goal.
There has been much debate within the theme park industry regarding Universal’s decision to switch to paid Express Passes, rather than the free passes distributed at each ride by many other parks including Disney World. However, Universal’s system works surprisingly well, and most park guests who invest in the passes feel that they are well worth the expense. For the guest trying to visit both parks in one day, an Express Pass is practically mandatory.
Express Passes entitle you to front of line access to each major attraction one time during the day. You will still wait in the Express line, however your wait for each attraction should be no longer than 15 minutes (though this is not guaranteed and waits may be longer at peak times). Compared to the hour plus Standby wait on busy days, it is easy to see that the Express Passes are definite time savers. Express Passes are available for each park, but if trying to see both in one day, you will want to purchase the two-park Express Pass.
This is also the perfect time to take advantage of the Universal Meal Deal. For a reasonable per person charge, you can eat all day at select counter service restaurants at both parks. Again be sure to purchase the two-park Deal for maximum flexibility. Also add a souvenir cup for unlimited free fountain drinks all day. You will not want to waste time at table service restaurants, and the Meal Deal allows you to eat as it fits into your schedule.
Begin your day early, at least an hour prior to park opening. You can purchase your Express Passes and Meal Deal at Guest Services outside the park gates, so take care of that while you are waiting. It is a matter of personal choice which park you will start the day in, but if you plan to take in a lot of shows, you may wish to begin with Universal Studios Orlando. Most of the shows take place in the Studios, and are only performed at certain times, so if the shows are important to you, plan your morning around the show schedule. If you are a coaster enthusiast, you may want to begin your day in Islands of Adventure, to ride the coasters first, but remember that they are generally more exciting at night.
Whichever park you choose to begin your day, it is important to make a list in advance of your must-see attractions. Your interests will, of course, determine your own list. However, the parks can be somewhat overwhelming to first-time visitors, so here are this author’s top five Orlando attractions in each park. Use this as a jumping off point for determining your own favorites.
- Jaws — This boat tour into the middle of the hit movies brings you face to face with Jaws himself. Although it is best at night, the ride is highly recommended at any time.
- Revenge of the Mummy — This attraction is one of the most unique rides in Orlando, as it combines amazing special effects and a thrilling high speed roller coaster.
- Men in Black: Alien Attack — One of the best “dark rides” in the world, Men in Black recruits regular guests as agents in training and sends them on a mission to defeat an alien invasion. Armed with laser guns, riders shoot at aliens for points adding a great interactive element to the experience.
- Terminator 2: 3D — A 3-D presentation that is among the best in the world. In Terminator 2: 3D, audience members get transported to an apocalpytic future with the Terminator himself for a high action adventure.
Islands of Adventure
- Dueling Dragons– Inverted coasters that provide three separate “near misses.” The coasters are exciting and dramatic, and the storyline (provided throughout the entrance queue) adds another layer to the attraction. Be sure to ride both Fire and Ice, as they are completely different track layouts.
- The Incredible Hulk — This launch coaster has become one of the top-rated roller coasters by various organizations. The ride is lengthy, fast, and fun, and is especially exciting at night.
- Poseidon’s Fury — An often overlooked attraction in the Lost Continent, this walk-through attraction combines live action, film, and special effects for an exciting journey into the underwater world of myth.
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman — Regularly billed as the most technologically advanced theme park attraction in the world, this ride is absolutely not to be missed. Combining a track-based layout with advanced motion simulator technology, 3D film, and special effects, Spiderman will truly make you feel that you are part of the action. If you only experience one attraction, this should be it.
- Jurassic Park River Adventure — This boat ride through Jurassic Park is a must-see. The realistic animatronic dinosaurs, lush settings, and surprising ending make the ride well worth the time. You Will Get Wet!
Of course, the lists above barely scratch the surface of all there is to see and do at the two parks. By investing in Express Passes and choosing the Meal Deal, you should be able to visit many more than the listed attractions. However, the above lists can provide guidance and assist you in making decisions on how best to spend limited time.
Make sure to keep your party together and keep moving at all times. Yet do not become so caught up in keeping your schedule that you forget to look around. The themeing at both parks is spectacular, and should be noticed and appreciated. Remember to enjoy your day!