How I make a family vacation to Universal Orlando Resort EASY and FUN!
A family vacation to a theme park is well worth it, but there is a lot of planning and money involved. Here are 15 tips, tricks, and lessons I learned to make our trip to Universal Studios Orlando EASY and FUN! We went in August of 2021 and took 4 boys ranging in ages from 6 to 21.
1. Plan to use a dryer for your shoes and clothes. We got SOAKED head to toe on the water rides. Then with the afternoon rains we never got fully dry. In these pictures we are hiding from the rain in the Jurassic World caves! We learned that with the Florida humidity, our shoes and clothes never fully dried! Our clothes did not dry overnight, even when we hung them up or draped them over the A/C. Next time I will either get a place with a washer and dryer, or plan some time and bring coins to use the hotel dryer. Drying our shoes with the hair dryer was no bueno!
2. Get a paper ticket or a paper locker ticket. Many rides at Universal Studios require you to use a locker because you cannot take backpacks or cell phones on the ride. The lockers are fairly easy to use, just requiring your ticket to open them and are free for the duration of the ride. I was using my electronic ticket on my phone to get into the park and to use the lockers, but when I used my phone to get into the lockers for the Hulk, they wouldn't open! I found out that the lockers there are smart enough to know that I was using my phone! And phones are not allowed on the Hulk. I found an attendant and she gave me a paper locker ticket to use so I wouldn't have to take my cell phone on the ride.
3. Bring water and snacks in a waist pack or small backpack. All my boys carried a waist pack that allowed them to bring a water bottle, snacks, and put their phone in a zippered pocket. My husband brought a hydration waist pack and I brought a hydration backpack that we filled with bottled water at the hotel. The water at the park was not our favorite, but it didn't bother our boys. You could also bring filtered water bottles to combat the yucky taste. Our boys brought a frozen water bottle that we froze at the hotel and they loved having refreshingly cold water throughout the day! My backpack, though on the smaller side, was a tad bit too big to fit into the lockers at the beginning of the day as my water bladder was full and I was carrying everyones sandwiches and extra snacks for the kids to refill. I had put the snacks in ziplock bags, so it was fairly easy to take the bags out and repack when we were done with the ride. By the end of the day my bag fit just fine! Another tip you might not think about is to bring a water bladder that has a lid on it! I didn't have to worry about the nozzle getting dirty as I took my backpack on and off all day. My husband was wishing he had one on his.
4. Bring a lanyard with waterproof case. You will want to have easy access to your tickets. If you have an express pass you'll be scanning your ticket for almost every ride. Even if you don't have the express pass you'll be scanning your tickets to get into the park and every time you use a locker. I used my cell phone for my tickets but was wishing I had a lanyard and paper tickets. Not only would I have had easy access to them, but it would also keep them dry (no more pocket use after the wet rides!). Next time I might even try one of those lanyard cases for your phone! And FYI... on the ride you'll probably be asked to tuck the lanyard into your shirt.
5. Use the Child Swap. For rides that the littles are too small or too scared to go on you can do a child swap. One parent watches their child in a designated family room while the others ride. Then the parents swap and can take up to 4 riders with them. The family room is comfortable with benches or chairs and a TV. We left all our bags with the non-rider so we didn't have to mess with the lockers.
6. Don't feel like you have to be there from open to close. Our first day we stayed until close and got up to be there when it opened. We were so exhausted and grouchy the 2nd day!! Once we had hit all the rides we wanted to we headed back to the hotel to relax at the swimming pool and get to bed early. The 3rd day we got there at opening, got in the virtual line for Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and enjoyed some shorter lines before the park got too busy. That day was so much more enjoyable for us!!
7. Islands of Adventure has the best rides. Our entire family agreed with this. I had originally planned to spend 2 days in both Universal Studios and Island's of Adventure, but after 2 days at Island's of Adventure and 1 day at the Universal Studios, it was decided to spend the 4th day at Islands of Adventure. I will say that we didn't see any of the shows at Universal Studios, and I wish we would've, but having a family that is solely interested in the rides, it just didn't happen for us. By far, everyone's favorite rides were Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Jurassic World VelociCoaster.
8. Bring good shoes with good insoles. We walked about 18,000 steps a day! I brought bandaids with us for blisters just in case but luckily didn't have to use them. We did end up going to the store to buy new insoles for one of our boys. For our youngest child we brought some thick soled shoes since he was right on the edge of being tall enough to ride some of the rides. I might try taking my Keens next time. Having a good pair of shoes that will dry quickly might be helpful. Even the day that I said I wasn't going on water rides my shoes still got soaked in a down pour!!
9. Arrive at opening to get in the Virtual Line. Some rides only have a virtual line. You can't check in for it until the park opens and you are on property. There is a QR code you can scan at the park entrance and at the ride that will bring you to the website that will put you in the queue for a time slot. Once you have that virtual ticket there will be a count down to when you can check in at the ride. Keep checking back because just like a real line, the time in line will change! Once the time is done a new code will appear that they will scan at the ride to let you in to the lockers and the "real" line. The first day we didn't get on at all because we were so late getting to the park (jet lag!). The second day each adult got in the cue. We spaced them out about a half an hour apart and that was perfect.
10. Bring Ziplock Bags to put your phones in for the water rides. I'm a big fan of traveling with ziplock bags. There are so many great uses. But definitely my top use at a theme park is to keep our cell phones and keys dry on the water rides.
11. Make restaurant reservations at City Walk. We did not have to make reservations to eat inside the park, but at City Walk was a different story. We learned that some of the restaurants here require them. This beautiful Mexican restaurant looked super yummy, but we never got to try it. By the time we realized we needed reservations, the only ones available were at 11pm the night before we were to leave!
12. Eat at The Three Broomsticks!! This was by far my favorite theme park food I've ever had! So yummy we ate there twice and it really had something for everyone. The Grand Feast says it feeds 4. We ordered one extra plate and it fed our family of 3 adults, 2 teens, and 1 child, with extra left over! Our second visit there I tried the Shepherds Pie and it was equally amazing!
13. Budget for Butterbeer. Our family LOVES Butterbeer, a butterscotch soda topped with heavenly creme. Plan extra money in your budget to get this drink several times! (If you get it frozen at the stand outside they'll give you a straw and it's nice and refreshing in the heat of the day!). Also at The Three Broomsticks you can buy Butterbeer Ice Cream and Pumpkin Juice. My 6 year old and I loved the Pumpkin Juice which reminded me of a Spiced Apple Cider.
14. Get a celebration pin. You can stop by guest services and get a celebration pin if you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or even just your first visit. We never actually wore them in the park (a combination of forgetting to stop at guest services, forgetting them at the hotel, and having teenagers who are too cool to wear them!), but I hear there are extra perks if you do! We plan to make ornaments out of ours to remember our trip!
15. Find out what Hogwarts house you belong to. We added to the magic of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter by being "sorted" online before we went. It was so fun to see what houses we each belonged to and also get our petronus. I bought house shirts for everyone before we left and surprised my family with them in Orlando. I saved a lot of $ buying the shirts before we left (more Butterbeer $!! Yay!!)
There you have it! My 15 tips and tricks to having a FUN and EASY family trip to Universal Orlando Resort. If you have any questions drop me a comment and I'll be happy to answer them. I'd also love to hear your experiences at Universal Orlando Resort and any tips or tricks you have!