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How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Universal Studios Hollywood

Here's everything you need to know about visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, from the best rides and restaurants to seasonal events and more.

planning trip to universal studios california

Did you know that in the heart of Los Angeles you can sip on Butterbeer , come face to face with terrifying dinosaurs, and have an epic journey with adorable Minions? No acting experience required.

Universal Studios Hollywood is a theme park like no other, connected to a working movie and television production lot that's been around since the early 20 th century. The film studio first got into attractions with a tram tour in 1964 but has since evolved and grown into a bonafide theme park with thrilling rides, live entertainment, immersive lands, and thematically pleasing (and delicious) foods.

The theme park may be compact compared to its East Coast sibling, but it makes up for its smaller stature with top-notch attractions. Unlike other parks, it offers a welcomed level of flexibility requiring minimal pre-planning for visitors, appealing to both solo travelers and families alike. The park can be accomplished in one day for those short on time but looking to get a taste of what Tinseltown's only theme park has to offer.

Related : 20 Best Amusement Parks in the World

Universal Studios Hollywood Ticket Types and Prices

The ultimate Hollywood experience is surprisingly more affordable than you may have imagined. One-day general admission begins at $109, with two-day general admission beginning at $149. Using a dynamic ticket pricing system, the cost depends on the date of your visit, with weekends and holidays tiered higher. Front gate purchases will cost significantly more, and advanced online purchases are suggested.

Universal Express offers expedited access to almost every attraction and show with ticket packages beginning at $189. Guided VIP experiences begin at $349 and offer small group expedited access to rides and complimentary refreshments.

Luckily, when you inevitably fall in love with the park, it won't require a mortgage payment to visit again. Universal Studios Hollywood has one of the most affordable annual pass programs in the country, with the value of your park ticket able to be used towards the upgrade. Perks include free parking and discounts on food and merchandise, with the pass program starting at $159 for California residents and $199 for general guests.

Universal Studios Hollywood Layout

Comprised of two different levels, the upper lot and the lower lot, Universal Studios Hollywood is one of the easiest parks to navigate for first-time visitors. Guests enter on the upper lot and a series of escalators, known as the Starway, travel a quarter mile down to the lower lot.

The upper lot is the largest, comprised of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Simpsons -inspired Springfield U.S.A., the World-Famous Studio Tour, live shows, and more. The lower lot is home to Revenge of The Mummy — The Ride, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3-D, Jurassic World —The Ride, and several eateries and shops.

Universal Studios Hollywood Rides

Universal Studios Hollywood has a little something for everyone, from thrill junkies to young children, with attractions featuring your favorite characters, movies, and television series.

The park has experienced a period of growth over the last decade, including the milestone addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While the land is smaller than its counterpart in Florida, it brings along its greatest hits, including e-ticket attraction, Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, and the popular wand-choosing experience, Ollivanders.

The newest attraction, Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash! (exclusive to the Hollywood park), opened in 2021 and is a marvel of a dark ride seamlessly mixing industry-leading screen-based technology with animatronics. Located on the upper lot's Manhattan-inspired streets, the colorful area immerses guests in the loved movie franchise through playful character interactions.

On the lower lot, Jurassic World — The Ride is a water-based attraction that shines as one of the biggest thrills offered with pioneering feats in audio-animatronics since its refurbishment in 2021.

The World-Famous Studio Tour is a unique 60-minute journey that includes behind-the-scenes access to working sets while intermixing themed attraction experiences , all while sitting aboard a tram. With ever-changing production schedules, no two rides on this iconic attraction are ever the same. Through the theme park's commitment to becoming more environmentally friendly, the trams are being given an upgrade and will soon utilize all electric vehicles.

Other rides include a family-friendly Minions attraction, a Harry Potter -themed coaster for all ages, and interactive playscapes.

The first Super Nintendo World in the United States is slated to open in 2023, bringing new attractions.

Where to Eat at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood's dining options are quick-service, but that doesn't mean you'll sacrifice taste thanks to multitudes of globally inspired bites served in highly themed locations.

The popular eatery, Three Broomsticks, transports guests to the fantastical world of Harry Potter inside a dining hall straight out of the blockbuster franchise. British delicacies are the menu's focus, with traditional dishes like fish and chips and a standout English breakfast. No meal is complete without fan-favorite Butterbeer ice cream.

The whimsically themed Super Silly Fun Land houses a Minions-themed cafe with approachable eats, like a homestyle grilled cheese and tomato soup. In Springfield, beloved eateries from The Simpsons come to life, including Krusty Burger and Lard Lad (serving up giant pink donuts). On the lower lot, Jurassic Café offers unique bites, like slow-roasted mojo pork, and it is steps away from Isla Nu-Bar, a tiki outpost pouring tropical cocktails.

For those looking to imbibe during their park visit, there's no shortage of highly themed bars, including Moe's Tavern, Hog's Head in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Mulligan's Irish Pub.

Those seeking a caffeine fix should avoid Starbucks and head straight to the French Street Bistro, a charming hidden gem with coffee drinks, breakfast, and snacks served throughout the day.

Universal CityWalk Hollywood

The property's dining and entertainment district, CityWalk, is adjacent to the theme park, where you can find the destination's table-service dining options. NBC Sports Bar & Grill is your go-to spot for sporting events and offers surprisingly excellent pub food, while Antojitos Cocina Mexicano has a wonderful patio and sprawling bar with Mexican eats and handcrafted cocktails. For casual options, the recently opened Chick Chick Chicken dishes out authentic Nashville-style hot chicken while the legendary Pink's Hot Dogs has an easy-to-access outpost of their iconic eatery.

No park ticket is required to visit CityWalk.

When to Visit Universal Studios Hollywood

Given its location in sunny Southern California, visitors can enjoy pleasant weather almost year-round. Weekdays between holiday seasons are the best time to visit for shorter lines at attractions and restaurants.

Visits during the theme park's two annual events, Halloween Horror Nights and Grinchmas, tend to be the most crowded. Halloween Horror Nights, a separately ticketed event, is the country's leading haunt event where Universal's soundstages are transformed into frightening walk-through experiences themed to the biggest horror franchises. Grinchmas, included with general theme park admission, sees gleeful holiday-inspired upgrades. Universal Express proves to be invaluable during these times.

How to Get There and Where To Stay Near Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood is located in the heart of Los Angeles, approximately 20 minutes from nearby Hollywood Burbank Airport and 40 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport.

Daily parking rates for theme park visitors begin at $30 if entering the lot before 5 p.m. For those visiting a full-service restaurant at CityWalk, valet parking is available for up to 2.5 hours for $10.

Unlike Orlando's version, they do not have on-site, Universal-operated hotels, but hotel partners. Hilton Universal City & Sheraton Universal Hotel are located within walking distance of the park, with guests receiving perks like complimentary shuttles and discounted ticket packages.

Entertainment at the Theme Park

It's of no surprise that entertainment is a cornerstone of the theme park, including some of the most impressive displays of free-roaming characters that interact with guests, like Beetlejuice, Dracula, and Lucille Ball.

The theme park's live shows also shine, like "Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular." Inspired by the cult-favorite film, the stunt show is celebrating over 25 years and uses actual pieces from the movie's sets along with large-scale pyrotechnics and captivating live actors. Other shows include the hilarious Universal's Animal Actors featuring real-life, Hollywood-trained pets.

Their nighttime offerings may be more scaled back than other parks, but the Harry Potter -themed evening spectacular is worth staying for. "Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle" combines music, lights, and projections all set to the stunning backdrop of the towering school of wizardry.

Universal Studios Hollywood Planning Tips

Download the official app, where you can quickly access the most up-to-date wait times, showtimes, maps, and more.

Many guests enter and begin their day at the upper lot's attractions. Instead, work backward by beginning at the lower lot to possibly relieve wait times.

The World-Famous Studio Tour typically embarks on its last ride of the day over an hour before park closing, so it is best to plan ahead for this experience.

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2023 Universal Studios Hollywood Planning Guide

planning trip to universal studios california

Universal Studios Hollywood is one of Southern California’s best theme parks, and a great side trip if you’re visiting Disneyland . This USH planning guide offers tips & tricks to help you save money & time, avoid crowds, where to eat, and best rides to do at the “Entertainment Capital of Los Angeles.” ( Updated April 24, 2023 .)

It has already been a huge year for Universal Studios Hollywood, and 2023 isn’t even at the halfway point. The year started with the debut of Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, a new restaurant and confectionery in Universal CityWalk. This is a good spot for crowd-pleasing fare and fun, like Cheesecake Factory but in a highly-themed setting. So long as you have the proper expectations about what it is and isn’t, you’re likely to have a good experience.

In addition to that, Universal Studios Hollywood’s world famous studio tour has a new scene featuring Jupiter’s Claim from Nope. That, plus other little additions and closures are paving the way for USH’s star to shine even brighter. However, all of this is relatively insignificant as compared to the 800 pound plumber in the room…

Super Nintendo World is now open at Universal Studios Hollywood! This marks the official arrival of Mario, Luigi, Bowser, and other iconic Nintendo characters to the United States theme park scene. It’s the second of three versions of the land; with the first already open in Universal Studios Japan.

We had the chance to experience Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood several times, and it’s truly something special. Super Nintendo World features the groundbreaking Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride, as well as many interactive activities designed to engage the entire family within the captivating Mushroom Kingdom.

If you’re planning a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood and Mario and friends are your main motivation, you should consult our comprehensive Strategy Guide for Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood . That offers tips & tricks, how to beat the crowds, and a ton of other advice for making the most of your time in this incredible new land.

planning trip to universal studios california

If you’re on the fence about Super Nintendo World, or want more recommendations for whatever reason, check out our thoughts in Super Nintendo World Review: Good, Bad & Ugly . If you’re looking for more Mario Kart info, see our  Ride Review: Mario Kart Bowser’s Challenge . (Both of those reviews are based on the USJ version of Super Nintendo World.)

On a more practical note, there’s our  Review of Toadstool Cafe in Super Nintendo World , which is based on the California version of that restaurant.

planning trip to universal studios california

It should go without saying, but Super Nintendo World is going to draw colossal crowds to Universal Studios Hollywood throughout 2023. Mario is more recognizable than Mickey Mouse, and millions of kids and adults are undoubtedly eager to step into their favorite video games. This is going to turn Universal Studios Hollywood into a vacation destination for visitors from around the country.

Compounding the crowd issue is the  size  of Super Nintendo World. As a result of that compact footprint coupled with high demand, Universal uses a virtual line system for accessing Super Nintendo World on busier days. The good news is that the land does not require advance reservations. Guests are able to enter Super Nintendo World as usual, so long as it is not at capacity. If it is at capacity, make reservation from the USH app while inside park, or kiosk on Lower Lot.

In our experience, so long as you arrive early or late, the virtual line is a non-factor. It’s usually only in use on weekends, holidays, and other peak season days when school is out of session. Even then, so long as you arrive before 10 am or after 4 pm, you typically won’t have to deal with the virtual queue.

planning trip to universal studios california

Universal Studios Hollywood has improved tremendously in the last several years, so there are a ton of fun things to do beyond Super Nintendo World! The Studio Tour, WaterWorld Stunt Show, and Jurassic World: the Ride (featuring a new Indominus Rex) are all awesome.

On the family-friendly front, there’s the Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash. We reviewed this in Universal’s New Dark Ride Rivals Disney’s Best! As the title suggests, that article is full of effusive praise, as this family-friendly dark ride based on the hit film franchise is absolutely fantastic. It’s a great change of pace from the usual thrill rides at USH!

planning trip to universal studios california

Beyond that, Universal Studios Hollywood has changed a lot in the last 5 years–and for the better. The biggest recent addition is the aforementioned Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash. Prior to that, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was added to the upper lot. On the lower lot, there’s the newly-redone Jurassic World area, which includes Raptor Encounter, DinoPlay, Isla Nu-bar, and Jurassic World — The Ride.

Huge areas of USH already have been dramatically transformed from how they were about a decade ago when we first bought our Universal Studios Hollywood Annual Passes. The future beyond Super Nintendo World is also bright, with a new roller coaster that starts in the upper lot and descends to the lower lot likely on the horizon, plus replacement stage shows and other entertainment.

planning trip to universal studios california

In the lead-up to the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, there are other long-term plans to add more rides to this hybrid of a theme park and working film studio. That ‘hybrid’ nature of the park is critical to Universal Studios Hollywood’s success, and what makes it distinct from both other theme parks in Southern California and other studio tours at Warner Brothers, Paramount, and Sony.

This also makes it significantly different from Universal Orlando Resort , with far fewer attractions (and only one park), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a pale imitator or inferior substitute. Much like Disneyland is smaller than Walt Disney World but offers an excellent, albeit different experience, so too does Universal Studios Hollywood. And part of this is because of its hybrid nature, not in spite of it.

With that said, here’s what you need to know about visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, where you can ride the movies!

When to Visit

planning trip to universal studios california

Very few people are probably planning a trip to Los Angeles solely for Universal Studios Hollywood. Most of you are probably adding on a day as part of your Disneyland or Southern California vacation, so the answer to this is easy…whenever you’re coming to California.

In this regard, crowd patterns at Disneyland translate pretty similarly to Universal Studios Hollywood. The busy season at one is the busy season at the other, and vice-a-versa with slow seasons. Crowds at both are primarily based upon school schedules–primarily those of Los Angeles and Orange County, California (but to a lesser degree, the western United States). You can basically refer to our When to Visit Disneyland post to determine when to visit.

As for when to visit California, we’re partial to the fall and winter months. Summer doesn’t get humid like Florida and many other states, but it can be hot. More importantly, that’s when everyone else comes to California–meaning crowds.

Park Tickets


There are a couple of good options for saving money on Universal Studios Hollywood tickets, both via Get Away Today. The first is buying a Disneyland + Universal Studios Hollywood combo pass . If you don’t plan on doing Disneyland, Universal’s “ Second Day Free ” ticket option allows you to spread your visit over multiple days.

Two full days is overkill, but we love doing an evening one night followed by arriving for rope drop on day two. Even if you do every single show, attraction, 2 meals, and spend time exploring, you should be able to accomplish everything in a single full day if you are reasonably efficient.

Spreading things out over a night and the following morning makes things a lot more pleasant, and means far less waiting in line. Plus, it gives you a chance to experience both day and night in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (Speaking of which, huge Harry Potter fans who want to spend an entire day in Hogsmeade, and then elect to spend a second day doing the rest of the park.)

planning trip to universal studios california

If you’re considering doing more than a couple of days, you might consider an Annual Pass. This mostly applies to Californians who might want to revisit later in the year. We have the lowest tier (the “Season Pass”) and it cost us slightly less than a 2-day ticket. There are blockout dates and this pass doesn’t include parking, but it has been a great value for us.

You might also find discount offers on 1-day tickets or Annual Passes at Costco, Ralph’s, Vons, and other California grocers. Sam’s Club and AAA sometimes offer discounts on tickets for their members, so be sure to check that out if you’re eligible.

planning trip to universal studios california

If you’re driving to Universal Studios Hollywood, add 30 minutes to whatever Google Maps estimates as your drive time so you can arrive before park opening. If you’re trying to make it from your Disneyland-area hotel to Universal Studios Hollywood for rope drop, there’s a reasonable chance you will be driving during at least part of rush hour. When you sit at your computer and plan this all out at 11 p.m., this traffic won’t be accounted for.

The plus side to leaving early and arriving to USH at rope drop is that few other people will do it. Los Angelenos are unfamiliar with the concept of being “on time” since the traffic gods more or less preclude that. Crowds tend to show up about 1-2 hours after park opening, and tend to tour the park in a predictable manner. If you can get ahead of the wave of crowds, you can really come out ahead at Universal Studios Hollywood.

planning trip to universal studios california

Upon arrival, here should be your priorities, in order:

  • Super Nintendo World
  • Transformers: The Ride 3D
  • Jurassic World – The Ride
  • Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride
  • Studio Tour
  • The Simpsons Ride
  • Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem
  • Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Okay, a bit of explanation for all of that. First, we strongly encourage all but the most hardcore Harry Potter fans to skip Ollivanders. It’s basically a pre-show for buying wands, and takes valuable time early in the morning. Likewise, Flight of the Hippogriff is a waste of time if you’re over the age of 5.

planning trip to universal studios california

Your main goal should be getting down to the Lower Lot attractions (Super Nintendo World, Transformers, Jurassic World, and Revenge of the Mummy) as early as possible. This area of the park, separated by a series of escalators and stairs, used to start slower in the morning. Super Nintendo World has changed that, but you should still attempt to beat the rush down there.

Secret Life of Pets, Forbidden Journey, Simpsons, and Despicable Me are the 4 attractions that are going to draw long waits early-on. This is because they are the popular rides near the front of the park. If you can ride these before the “crowd wave”, awesome. If not, save them until the end of the day when lines will taper off.

planning trip to universal studios california

Honestly, the above itinerary works about the same forwards and backwards. You either want to beat the crowds  or outlast them.  Crowds peak at Universal Studios Hollywood in the late morning and early afternoon, and decrease after that. We highly recommend staying until park closing and then doing dinner afterwards in CityWalk.

With that approach, not only will you experience lower crowd levels at the end of the evening, but you’re also less likely to be stuck in traffic in the parking lot that is the Hollywood Freeway during rush hour. Park opening and closing times vary based on season, but it’s always our goal to not leave USH until after 8 pm. Any time before that is a recipe to be stuck in traffic on the 101.


If you’re willing to use it, Single Rider will save a ton of time during busier times. Single Rider is available at the following attractions:

While we like (and recommend) doing all of the shows, the biggest can’t miss at Universal Studios Hollywood is the Studio Tour. Do not confuse its placement on the itinerary above as it being of low importance. It is the must-do at USH. (We only place it later in the day as lines tend to get shorter later in the day.) Do not miss it.

planning trip to universal studios california

If you’re visiting during a season when the Nighttime Studio Tour is being offered, we highly recommend doing both the regular Studio Tour and the Nighttime version. Every ride on the Studio Tour is different, but night brings a new element to the attraction.

Seriously, we cannot stress it enough: do the Studio Tour . This is the defining attraction of Universal Studios Hollywood, and the only thing we make a point of doing each time we visit. (Just don’t get your hopes up about the Fast and the Furious sequence…it has more cheesiness than the movies, but without the redeeming charm and heart.)

Gate A/Front of Line Pass

planning trip to universal studios california

“Gate A” is Universal Studios Hollywood’s “Front of Line” pass, which is like FastPass at Disneyland, except that Gate A costs money. In some cases, a lo t of money. Prices for Gate A start at +$100 the cost of single day tickets and increase in cost depending upon the season (the busier it is, the more you pay).

We are not proponents of purchasing Gate A unless you are going during the height of tourist season (think summer, spring break, or any national holidays), and even then, we would advocate taking advantage of Universal Studios Hollywood’s many Single Rider lines or arriving at park opening and utilizing an efficient park touring strategy like the one above.

If you follow our plan above, the Front of Line/Gate A pass is just not necessary the vast majority of the time. Maybe it would be on like the 10 busiest days of the year, but we have never had an issue doing everything in USH during a single day without Gate A.

Where to Stay

planning trip to universal studios california

There are a number of variables that play into this. First, are you visiting Universal Studios Hollywood as a day-trip from Disneyland? Is the visit part of a Southern California vacation? A California road trip? Let’s address each of these…

Disneyland Day Trip – Stick to your hotel in Anaheim and just drive there and back. Traffic aside, this is pretty simple. Universal doesn’t open at the crack of dawn, so you’ll have a reasonable amount of transit time while still being able to make park opening.

Southern California Vacation – If you’re doing this and don’t mind changing hotels once–which is what we recommend–we’d suggest doing (at least) a split stay, having a hotel in Orange County/Anaheim for the Disneyland, beach, and whatever else in the O.C. portion of your trip, and then a separate hotel in Los Angeles or near Universal Studios Hollywood.

planning trip to universal studios california

California Road Trip – If you’re doing a road trip down/up the state (let’s say flying into San Diego and flying out of San Francisco with a one-way car rental), we would recommend Universal Studios Hollywood being what you do on your last day in the Los Angeles area before heading north.

The night before, stay in L.A., but the night after, drive up to Santa Barbara. It’s a little over an hour drive, but getting back to your (much closer, distance-wise) hotel in L.A. could take just as long that night. Staying in Santa Barbara gets you away from the city and prepared to enjoy sunrise over the ocean the next morning without having to fight traffic to head north.

planning trip to universal studios california

When it comes to specific hotels near USH, we like the Garland and Sheraton Universal Hotel. Both are really close to the park, with the Sheraton being a short walk and the Garland being a short (free!) shuttle ride. You’ll also find the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City “on-site” at Universal Studios Hollywood.

There’s also a Metro Red Line station at Universal Studios Hollywood, making anything along the Red Line super convenient to the park, including options in Downtown LA. Rather than going for a bland chain, you might consider something eclectic or with old-Hollywood charm, like the Safari Inn.

planning trip to universal studios california

When booking in Los Angeles, be mindful of neighborhoods, parking charges, and resort fees. If you find a “too good to be true” price, it probably is. If you are picking a hotel specifically for USH, we recommend looking north of downtown Los Angeles. Burbank and Glendale can be better options than Hollywood/Los Angeles. Neighborhoods like North Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, and Los Feliz are also smart picks.

To save money, check out the Universal Studios Hollywood hotel + ticket packages offered via Get Away Today . They have several hotels from which to choose, but our top pick is definitely the Garland. It’s a great resort-style property with a ton of personality, great rooms, and posh amenities. The Sheraton is also chic and nice, but it’s the kind of hotel you could find anywhere.


planning trip to universal studios california

There are no two ways about this: driving in Los Angeles sucks. And, if you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, there’s a good chance you’ll drive through L.A. to get there. However, that doesn’t have to be the case!

As noted above, there’s a Metro Red Line station located at Universal City, which is a short walk from both the park itself and CityWalk. The Metro Red Line is a subway running between Downtown Los Angeles and North Hollywood, with stops in or near the Civic Center, Financial District, Wilshire Boulevard, Hollywood & Sunset Boulevards, Koreatown, and the San Fernando Valley.

Even if you’re staying in Orange County near Disneyland, you can get to Universal Studios Hollywood without driving. Simply take the Pacific Surfliner from Anaheim to Union Station in Los Angeles, where you can then catch the Metro. We only recommend this for the most traffic-averse, as it is a bit of a hassle.


Most people will want to drive themselves from Disneyland to Universal Studios Hollywood. There aren’t any good shuttles, Uber is too pricey, and public transit can be convoluted and inefficient. Unfortunately, traffic can be bad too, and should not be underestimated. Plan on at least an hour, and potentially closer to 2 depending upon traffic.

For the most part, if you’re visiting California and plan to go anywhere off Disneyland property, you’ll want to rent a car. Traffic can be intimidating, but if you drive between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm or 9 pm and 7 am, you’ll be absolutely fine. We’ve done a lot of one-day rentals from rental car agencies within walking distance of Disneyland, and then have just done after-hours drop-offs.

As for airfare, rental cars, and other basics, here’s my standard info: for finding cheap airfare, we recommend ITA Software by Google . It’s the most robust airfare search engine out there, although you can’t book through it. It offers latitude in choosing multiple airports, flexible travel dates, and more.


Once you ride the movies right into the gift shop and buy the movies with your American Express–official credit card of the Entertainment Capital of L.A.–it’s time to dine (at?) the movies.

If you’re fine with counter service dining, Universal Studios Hollywood has several solid options inside the park. As a whole, I do not think the culinary experience is on par with Disneyland’s, but the highlights are more than serviceable. The best options, in my mind, are the counter service restaurants in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Three Broomsticks) and the Simpsons restaurants in Springfield.

The food at Three Broomsticks is pricey, but it’s near-table service quality. The Simpsons food is mostly guilty pleasure stuff, but the burgers and waffle chicken sandwich are excellent. Don’t knock them until you’ve tried ’em!

planning trip to universal studios california

Then there are the snacks. Universal Hollywood’s snack game is strong. Holy cow. Obviously, you’re going to want to try Butterbeer–perhaps all three varieties.

At Three Broomsticks, snacks deserving of your attention are the potted cream and sticky toffee cake. Both are incredibly delicious, and although you should share them, you probably won’t want to.

Then there are the donuts the size of your head in Springfield, deserving of another holy cow. There are some interesting varieties, but these should be split. After eating the maple bacon one pretty much by myself, my teeth hurt.

One thing you might want to consider is purchasing a refillable Coke Freestyle mug. Depends upon whether you want a lot of Coke or the souvenir mug. Coke Freestyle machines located throughout the park’s restaurants, and normal drink purchases in restaurants are not entitled to refills. Unlike in Florida, there is no Universal Dining Plan at USH.

Seasonal Events


Universal Studios Hollywood does not do much in the way of seasonal events. The one exception to this is Halloween Horror Nights, which you might make an effort to see or to avoid, depending upon your perspective. This is a hard ticket event in which you step onto the set of some of your favorite horror movies, and walking through those sets as actors attempt to scare you. This event is not for children under the age of 13, and is definitely adult in tone.

Halloween Horror Nights are a huge draw for Universal and they definitely attract an adult crowd. If you have no young kids and like horror movies, you’ll probably enjoy this event and find it worth the cost of the ticket. If you have a younger family, you’ll want to avoid it. If you’re traveling during the months of September and October, be mindful of the Halloween Horror Nights schedule.

planning trip to universal studios california

Christmas is celebrated with decorations and Grinchmas entertainment, but there’s nothing that requires advance-planning or around which you should schedule.

I think this is probably covers just about everything most people will need to know when planning a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood as an add-on to your Disneyland or Southern California vacation. If you would like to see some of these topics covered in greater depth, please let me know in the comments.

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets . Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings . For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews . For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney . For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide . Finally, for guides  beyond Disney , check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and many other SoCal cities!

Your Thoughts

Are you considering visiting Universal Studios Hollywood? If you are a USH veteran, can you fill in any of the ‘gaps’ here or add tips of your own? If you’re a first-timer, is there anything else you’d like to know? Chances are if you have questions still, so does someone else! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Written by Tom Bricker

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We had a great time at USH. We bought Early Access to Nintendo World, but so did everyone else. Getting there earlier than we did for rope drop would have given us an additional 15 minutes in the land because their crowd control is not great. My son did all the games first and then we waited about an hour for Bowser’s adventure. We went back the second day with no early access and the lines for the games were too long, he thought, so we just waited for Bowser’s adventure again, about an hour. This was a weekday before school let out, first week of June.

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Hi Tom. We’re trying to plan our trip westward for Disney/Universal for August ’23 and the park hours aren’t available yet for Universal Studios Hollywood. Do they typically hold off on posting the hours for more than 1 month out?

Thanks for the info as always. Hope all is well. Jo

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Wandering In Disney

A disney theme parks blog.

planning trip to universal studios california

Universal Studios Hollywood Trip Planning Guide

For theme park enthusiasts, Southern California is home to more than just Disneyland. Legoland, SeaWorld, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain all reside within a few hours of Anaheim. The true second option to Disneyland Resort is Universal Studios Hollywood. This post will cover a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood, including our favorite times to go to USH, places to stay, park tickets, FastPass and attraction guides, itineraries, dining, and more.

The goal of this post is to give a brief overview of each subject. If you have other questions please let us know in the comments! Near the end of this guide I’ll talk about whether 2023 is a good year to visit Universal Studios Hollywood, although I don’t think this is a destination to plan an entire trip around. If you’re interested, we also have guides to Disneyland , Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney Resort .

Universal Studios entrance

When to visit Universal Studios Hollywood?

The short answer is to visit whenever you’re taking a trip to LA or to Disneyland! Keeping those ideas in mind, then staying away from the heart of summer and vacationing during cooler times in other areas is a win. The crowds will be less at all of the tourist activities and the weather will be a nice respite from wherever you call home, assuming it is cold there.

Looking more specifically at Universal, the answers mirror each other. The park is less busy during the school year because not as many kids are there. I’m here to lay out the obvious! Staying away from summer, winter and spring breaks will usually lead to a manageable park crowd. I would recommend going on a weekday if at all possible.

Universal doesn’t do a ton of seasonal activities, at least relative to Disney Parks or the neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm. What they are known for is Halloween Horror Nights which are held in September and December as an extra ticketed event. This is definitely for adults and quite scary, as there are mazes/haunted houses for guests to go through that are based on popular films or shows.

Along with the fright, Universal has a few Christmas celebrations in place as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter gets extra festive and the Upper Lot portion of the park has a fairly elaborate Grinch celebration. While I wouldn’t say that’s reason alone for a visit, it can be a nice perk.

With all of that in mind, my favorite times of year to visit the park are January-early March, staying away from Presidents Day, and mid-September-early December, staying away from Thanksgiving. Those typically have a nice blend of good weather, low crowds and some festivities.

Hogsmeade street Christmas Universal

Airfare & Transportation

Los Angeles has plenty of airports to consider. Burbank is the closest one to Universal Studios Hollywood, at only about 6 miles away. If you’re starting or ending a trip at Universal, then flying out of there makes some sense. Of course, there’s also LAX, Ontario, Santa Ana and Long Beach Airports. The latter two are the closest to Disneyland. LAX is fairly close to downtown LA and some prominent beaches and Ontario is often cheap if flying from the west coast.

When looking for a flight, we generally use  Matrix ITA Software  to find the best fare. That site includes all major airlines outside of Southwest and doesn’t involve additional windows or pop-up ads. While you can’t book directly on that site, it will show the cheapest option.

Far more difficult to organize than flying to one of the Los Angeles airports is ground transportation to USH. There are so many cars in LA! With average public transportation, the most direct and easiest options are renting cars or taking an Uber/Lyft. Honestly, those options aren’t going to be that much more expensive than some shuttle options.

If you want to give public transportation a go, there is a metro station at Universal City and then a free shuttle from there to the park’s front gates. Coming from Union Station in LA or Hollywood will give you a direct line and is fairly cheap. I’d go that route if you are staying near one of those locations.

Finally, if you’re coming from Disneyland or vice versa, there is a train station in Anaheim. It’s a short bus ride away from DL. That train will also stop at Union Station in LA which will then lead to the Universal City Station. Frankly, that’s quite a bit of work but it’s a more interesting way to travel and cheaper than paying for gas and parking at either place. The drive between the two parks will take at least an hour and probably more thanks to traffic, while that train route will be just under 2 hours.

Ultimately, your transportation will depend on the rest of your trip. I think a mix of ride shares and public transportation is the best way to go, as driving in Los Angeles isn’t exactly fun unless you hit the few hours per day that there isn’t any traffic.

Hogwarts Express moon

How Many Days?

While the park and resort continue to make improvements, you only need one park day there. If it’s an extremely busy day, there’s a chance you won’t get everything done but if you get to Universal at opening and put in a full day then that’s enough time for everything.

The broader questions of how much time do you need for a trip to Southern California is far more difficult. I would say at least a week, if you want to go to Disneyland Resort, Universal and get a feel for Los Angeles and Orange County. There is so much to do and something for everyone, regardless of if you’re a beach or city person, if you want to go to museums or see live entertainment or just hit every touristy thing possible.

Bumblebee Transformers

Where to Stay?

There are three hotels on property – Hilton Los Angeles – Universal City, Sheraton Universal Hotel and The Garland. The first two are just a short walk to the park’s gates (as well as a complimentary shuttle) and The Garland has a complimentary trolley. All of these hotels are solid and an easy place to stay before or after a park day.

The drawback here is that I wouldn’t recommend staying in this location for touring LA or going to Disneyland. As I’ve mentioned, the commute is long! If you’re happy to jump around hotels during your vacation then I’d be all for recommending one of these, or staying close to the park in Burbank. But if you’d rather stay in the same spot for the whole trip then I’d recommend elsewhere. Let me know in the comments if you’d like more suggestions!

Sheraton Universal facade

Park Tickets

Buying tickets for Universal Studios Hollywood is a pretty straight forward experience. We recommend buying through Park Prodigy to receive a discount ! I would recommend buying them in advance. Tickets begin around $100 for a single day ticket. The price for a second day is significantly cheaper, although not overly necessary.

If you are planning to make multiple trips to Southern California over the course of a year, USH offers much cheaper annual passes than Disney. I have the cheapest non-Californian AP and it comes in at $219. Going more than 3 times in a year pays for the pass. We’d recommend this route if you are a theme park junkie and know you’ll visit the area more than once in a year.

Simpsons ride poster

What to Pack? 

Universal is no different than visiting a Disney theme park in packing for a day. We cover  this topic in-depth in a singular post , with a list of necessities to take to the park each time we go. Okay, maybe not all of them are necessities but we like having them around! On top of that, we do advise everyone to bring a great pair of shoes and start with light layers that you can add to.

Packing some breakfast snacks and stuff for sandwiches to bring into the park is an easy way to save money, as well. Taking food into the parks is not a problem at all as long as it’s not stored in glass containers. We enjoy protein bars and trail mix as a quick snack while standing in line. There’s always candy too. It’s never a bad time for candy.

Hogwarts Harry Potter

Park Strategy for Attractions & Entertainment

Universal Studios Hollywood has an interesting attraction roster, even if it’s a little short on actual rides. We’ve ranked all of those rides and would plan an itinerary largely based on those rankings, with a few caveats. The biggest caveat in 2023 is that Super Nintendo World is opening and will be the most popular place in the park for the foreseeable future. In fact, the area will be popular enough for guests to need reservations to enter the land more often than not. You can get those through the app, once inside of the park. I’d recommend getting to Universal as close to opening as possible if you want to get reservations. By reservations, there will essentially be a virtual queue which is not a foreign concept for Disney fans.

On one hand, it’s a bit stressful to get all of that done. On the other, it’s nice that it won’t interrupt the entire park itinerary for the day. Speaking of getting there at park opening, that’s the real key for Universal Studios Hollywood anyway. For whatever reason, that park just doesn’t draw a huge crowd at opening unless it’s a busy day. If guests get there about 15 minutes before park opening, I’d expect a very productive day in terms of rides!

How to go about that productive day? I’m so glad you asked! The park is broken into two lots – upper and lower. Separating them is a very long sting of escalators. If you’re not in a hurry, they’re a ride in their own right!

Guests enter at the upper lot and that’s where we’d recommend checking four rides off the list as quickly as possible. Those four are Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and The Simpsons Ride. I would likely do them in that order, although you could put Harry Potter first on that list and move the animated movie inspired rides to second and third.

Jurassic World tunnel

Following the upper lot, race down those escalators and knock out Jurassic World – The Ride, Transformers: The Ride 3D and Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride. If you can complete all of those attractions before lunch then you’ve already won the day! Super Nintendo World will also be sprinkled in there but I’d advise just trying for a spot in the virtual queue. If you notice that the land hasn’t hit capacity by the time you’ve reached the lower lot, then go there instead.

After lunch, make sure to check out WaterWorld! That just leaves the Studio Tram Tour as the main activity for the afternoon. Depending on the day, that may have a long wait at that point but it’s well worth it. The ride itself will last nearly an hour and it’s one of the main selling points of visiting the park. There are other shows that are worth attending, as well!

If you’re so inclined, Harry Potter, The Mummy, Jurassic World and Transformers all have a single rider line that will save you some time waiting. We like to ride Harry Potter in the morning together and then come back and ride it via single rider throughout the day, as I’ve never experienced more than a 10 minute wait in that line.

Universal Studios does offer an Express Pass which amounts to a ‘skip the line’ pass. We do not think it’s worth the cost but if you’re throwing money around then it would be a good amount of fun! There may be better splurges at Universal than that though.

Jaws Studio Tour

2023 is a big year for Universal Studios Hollywood in a lot of ways, chief among them is expanding their dining options. Along with Toadstool Café in Super Nintendo World, Toothsome Chocolate Emporium is open in Universal City Walk. Both of those places will be among the top choices to eat because, well… I’m not overly fond of the pre-existing options.

Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the best option in the park, at least in terms of atmosphere. The food is solid too but overpriced. I’ve enjoyed various meals at Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Minion Café and Hollywood & Dine. Other times I’ve been underwhelmed by all of the places I just mentioned. There’s no absolute standout but there are decent options.

Secret Life of Pets Weiner dog

Outside of the Park

I’ve already discussed being outside of the park a little bit but I’ll list a few places in LA to go to. Before that, City Walk is right outside the gates and has a variety of restaurants, shopping and a large movie theater. This is Downtown Disney but with some better options, honestly. Catching a late movie here after the park closes is a good way to go!

Moving outside of the Universal property, there is so much to do. Some of my favorite locations in LA include Dodger Stadium, Griffith Observatory, The Getty, El Matador Beach and The Hollywood Bowl. On top of that, the city has a massive dining scene with some of my favorite restaurants in the world. There’s so much to explore here that a paragraph won’t suffice. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts about Los Angeles, let me know in the comments and I’ll commit a full post to it.

And of course, there are theme parks. You could start in northern Los Angeles County at Magic Mountain and do a full week going south with Universal, Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, California Adventure, Legoland and SeaWorld. That would be a very expensive week! Some of those places are more worth your time than others but there’s no shortage of options.

Griffith Observatory sunset

Should You Visit Universal Studios Hollywood in 2023 ?

Simply put, yes. Not only is this the best year to visit the park since it’s been created, the resort has leveled up to at least be within shouting distance of California Adventure’s quality. No, it’s not touching Disneyland. But with two marquee lands in Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Super Nintendo World along with an incredibly unique attraction like the Studio Tour, this is a place to be!

If you are planning a visit, there may be something to waiting out Super Nintendo World’s initial rush. I think that area of the park will be busy throughout spring and summer. If the land is really a hit, it will be busy for the next year. That should empty out the rest of the lands though as a huge attendance boost is hard to predict while school is in session.

Between the additions this year, Wizarding World and The Secret Life of Pets attraction, Universal Studios Hollywood keeps improving. I’m eager to see where they go next as there’s just not a lot of space to work with. For now, the park is well worth a visit!

Hogwarts from Flight of Hippogriff

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Tagged as: Universal Studios Hollywood , Universal Studios Hollywood food , Universal Studios Hollywood guide , Universal Studios Hollywood itinerary , Universal Studios Hollywood tickets

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Great post! I’d love your LA tips!

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Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood

Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood

Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is an exciting and fun experience, but there's plenty to know while planning your trip.

California.com Team

May 02, 2023

You’ve dreamt of this moment for years, and now the time has finally come: you’re going to Universal Studios Hollywood, one of the most famous attractions the Golden State has to offer. Receiving up to forty-thousand visitors in a single day, Universal Studios makes the list of the top ten most visited parks in the USA. And with amazing attractions such as the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and a Jurassic World ride, it isn’t hard to see why. This movie park is truly an exciting place to be for children and adults alike. 

To top it off, the park received a thorough modernization in 2018, installing new rides and making the classics better than ever before. Of course, visiting Universal Studios Hollywood can seem somewhat daunting, given the huge crowds and the long list of rides. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the luxury of sheer choice, but fear not, as this guide will fill you in on all the need-to-know stuff so your visit to Universal Studios is as fun as can be. 

All About the Park

planning trip to universal studios california

Much like many other American success stories, Universal Studios has humble beginnings. It began as Universal City, CA , a large studio city in the San Fernando Valley with its own mayor, police, and a working farm. At the time, only guided studio tours were available to the public, and it wouldn't be until 1964 that the modern iteration of Universal Studios opened its doors to the public. In the ensuing decades, the park flourished into a major attraction filled with multiple different rides based on the blockbuster films produced by Universal Studios. There are currently around twenty-two rides, shows, and attractions at the park. 

Getting Tickets

One important thing to know if you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is that they have flexible ticket pricing. This means that entrance tickets tend to be cheaper on weekdays than on public holidays and weekends. Ticket prices will also vary by the season, with busy times such as Easter and Christmas being more expensive than off-season periods. If you play your cards right, your Universal Studios Hollywood ticket prices can end up being much lower than you might expect. Note that all entrance tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood are good for one entire day.   

General Admission

The standard entry ticket typically costs between $106 and $145 for adults and between $100 and $135 for kids ages ten and older. This assumes you are buying the tickets in advance, something we highly recommend doing if you plan on visiting Universal Studios Hollywood during the holidays. That means a visiting couple can spend as little as $212 to get in, and a family of four can get away with spending just $412 for entry, which is a decent deal, all things considered. 

Express Ticket

Of course, even with the entrance tickets, you are still going to be standing in line for all the rides, shows, and attractions. If you’d rather skip the line and buy time for a more fun-packed day, we recommend getting the Express Ticket. Of course, convenience comes at a cost, and Express Entry tickets range from $195 on regular days to $285 on the busiest days. So a couple paying the lowest price can get an express entry ticket for the entire park for just $390, whereas a family of four will pay $780. That means potentially hundreds of dollars in savings, to say nothing of the hours you’ll save as well. 

planning trip to universal studios california

Transport Packages 

If you’d rather not deal with the hassle of figuring out your transportation arrangements, you can also buy travel packages that sort this out for you. Certain companies offer transport direct from your Los Angeles hotel to Universal Studios Hollywood, allowing for a seamless, worry-free holiday experience. Hiring a minivan typically costs between $140 and $200 for roundtrip service. 

VIP Tour Tickets

Possibly one of the most iconic studio tours Los Angeles has to offer, the VIP tour tickets are a must if you want to experience the full package of everything Universal Studios has to offer. With this ticket, you get exclusive access to behind-the-scenes where Universal’s classic blockbusters were created and where new flicks are being filmed every day. You get to see Universal Studios Gate 1 and take a peek behind the scenes where your favorite Universal films were made. If you’re a film buff, this is the ultimate Universal Studios Los Angeles for you. Tickets start at $362 per person, and on top of the tour, you also get unlimited express entry to all rides, attractions, and shows, a gourmet meal, and access to the VIP lounge. 

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Top Attractions 

planning trip to universal studios california

Jurrasic World: The Ride

Originally known as Jurrasic Park: The Ride, this iconic attraction at Universal Studios first opened its doors in 1996 and was closed in 2013 for a major overhaul. Today, the modernized attraction remains the centerpiece of the park and easily tops the ranked list of rides at Universal Studios . This is in part thanks to its advanced visual effects and lifelike animatronics that make this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

This is a water ride, so guests board a boat that takes them on an exhilarating roller coaster ride that will leave them soaked. As you glide through the lush tropical setting, your boat takes you through a wild land where scary yet majestic dinosaurs try to eat you. When it comes to sheer wow factor and grandeur, this ride trumps all others and is a must for anyone visiting Universal Studios Hollywood.   

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

This is one of the newest rides on the Universal Studios Hollywood map, but it has quickly become one of the most popular since its soft opening in 2016. This attraction features two main rides. One of these is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a dark ride that transports you through the magical world of the Harry Potter universe, complete with authentic props from the movie, a Quidditch match, Dementors, and a life-sized replica of Hogwarts itself. The other ride is Flight of the Hippogriff, Harry Potter-themed outdoor rollercoaster. 

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Ever since the first installation was released in 2010, Despicable Me has become widely popular with kids and adults alike thanks to its whimsical story and, of course, comedic Minions. These little yellow guys have been a true hit, so much so that they even got their origin story film in 2015. Minion Mayhem takes things to a whole new level by using virtual reality to “turn the riders into minions” before taking them on a fast-paced adventure. There are a few more exciting ways to have a true Minions experience. 

Top Food and Refreshments

planning trip to universal studios california

There are way too many gourmet dining options at Universal Studios Hollywood to list here, so we’ll stick to the highlights. We highly recommend using the park’s free WiFi to download the Universal Hollywood App to your phone, as it features detailed information on all the dining options Universal Studios has to offer. The app also has detailed info on Universal Studios Hollywood hours and wait times, which is quite handy for navigating this massive place. It’s also a great idea to bring plenty of water because you’ll need it after a hot day of walking around the park. 

Springfield, USA

That’s right, the iconic Simpsons city of Springfield is at Universal Studios Hollywood, and it just happens to be one of the best places for food in the entire park. As you might expect, the dining options here offer classic American fare but with a Simpsons twist. That means you can get the classic pink donuts that are Homer’s favorite treat, but also delectable fried chicken and biscuits from Cletus’ Chicken Shack. You can even enjoy nonalcoholic Flaming Moes at Moe’s Tavern with Barney.

With all the hustle and bustle of the park, you might opt for food on the go so you can explore as you enjoy a snack to keep going. For that, there are few better spots at Universal Studios than the Palace Deli & Market. Located in the upper lot, this place features to-go classics such as deluxe sandwiches, hardy turkey legs, sushi, and cheesy quiches. 

Jurassic Cafe 

Since you definitely will visit Jurassic World at least once, you’ll be glad to know that this section of the park also includes the Jurassic Cafe, a delightful Costa-Rican-style eatery. Here you can enjoy Central American classics such as citrus glazed chicken, tropical roasted chicken salad, juicy pork, and so much more. The food is delicious here, and it makes a refreshing change from standard amusement park cuisine.

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10 Tips for Your Family Trip to Universal Studios Hollywood

Best tips for harry potter world, thrilling rides, the studio tour and more.

Kathleen F. Miller

By Kathleen F. Miller

Published on: may 12, 2022.

Flight of the Hippogriff at Universal Studios Hollywoods best tips for family visit

A day at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles is expensive. But with its unique combination of thrilling rides, great live-action shows, Harry Potter magic  and a studio tour that's all about the movies, it makes for an awesome family destination. We've rounded up our top 10 tips for making the most of your visit.

1. Stay at a nearby hotel for easy access to the park

Unfortunately, booking a hotel through the Universal Studios website no longer gets you a bonus extra hour of early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter . But some of the nearby hotels, such as the Hilton Universal City and the Sheraton Universal Hotel , are within walking distance of the park, which helps you avoid parking fees.

Some hotels in nearby Burbank, such as the retro Safari Inn motel and its neighboring Coast Annabelle Hotel , offer a handy free shuttle to the park (advance reservations required) that drops you off (and picks you up) right at the entrance.

For a fun option with a classic Hollywood vibe, stay at the Beverly Garland , located just a few minutes drive away from the park. Your kids will love the heated outdoor pool. Guests can take the hotel’s free trolley to Universal Studios and to a metro station with quick access to Hollywood and downtown LA.

2. Buy your tickets online to save a few bucks; splurge on Universal Express Pass admission to skip the lines

Buying tickets online  will save you a few dollars on each ticket. Ticket prices vary depending on the season and the day of the week you want to visit. Expect general admission tickets purchased online to cost in the range of $109–$129.

While I'm generally budget-minded, for a Universal Studios visit we splurged on the Universal Express ticket, which costs a good chunk more at $189–$279. The Universal Express ticket provides one-time express access to each ride, attraction and seated show. With this ticket option, you can easily do everything in the park in a day and never have to wait in a line.

A Seattle family who visited Universal Studios the week of Thanksgiving in 2019 was very glad to have opted for the Universal Express ticket, waiting only about 5 minutes for rides, while regular wait times were 45–90 minutes. Another Seattle-area family that visited the park on a weekend in February 2019 did not find they needed the Express ticket and did not encounter long waits. (Check a website such as Undercover Tourist for guidance on the busiest times at the park.) Based on availability, you can also upgrade to the Universal Express ticket at the park on the day of your visit.

Want to go all out? For a premium price, get the VIP Experience, starting at $350 per ticket, which provides unlimited Express access to all rides, shows and attractions, an expanded expert guided tour of the studio (including areas where the tram tours do not go), a gourmet lunch and valet parking.

3. Remember: This is not Disneyland

Universal Studios Hollywood is different from Disneyland  in several important ways that are worth keeping in mind.

There is no add-on option here like Disneyland’s Genie+ or Lighting Lane Entrances. Unless you pay extra for the Universal Express option (mentioned in tip no. 2), you’ll spend considerable time standing in lines. There are few places to rest or sit in the shade.

Also unlike Disneyland, all of the park’s attractions can be done in one day, especially if you fork over the money for a Universal Express ticket.

If your kids are younger than 10, consider an extra day at Disneyland rather than splurging on a day at Universal Studios just yet. Universal Studios has several fast and pitch-dark rides (with height restrictions) that may not work for younger kids. Tweens and teens who've been to Disneyland before may prefer Universal Studios.

If you plan to visit both Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood on the same trip to the Los Angeles area, note that the parks are a solid hour's drive apart, or much more, depending on traffic.

(Want our best Disneyland tips? Try these on for size .)

4. Download the Universal Studios Hollywood app

Before you go, download the  Universal Studios Hollywood app , which will provide you with a map, approximate wait times for rides and other helpful information.

5. Newer Jurassic World and timing your rides

When the park opens, many people go straight to the attractions and shows on the upper level, including Harry Potter World , which is right near the entrance. Wise visitors head straight for the lower level lot, home to the newer  Jurassic World ride (splash alert!) and the Revenge of the Mummy ride. Or take the studio tour , as it is less crowded earlier in the day.

We find that some rides do not mix well with a full stomach, including the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and the motion-sickness-inducing Revenge of the Mummy , which jolts guests around at high speeds, often in darkness. Plan your meals accordingly.

6. Do not miss the studio tour

Hop on the tram for The World-Famous Studio Tour  — it's still the best ride at the park. Don't miss this iconic attraction, which showcases movie-making magic. If you're lucky, you might roll past a "hot set" with real filming in progress, or a catch glimpse of actors and crews on break.

7. Make time for spectacular live-action shows

In addition to the studio tour, my family loves the WaterWorld  show, which is full of awesome action. We’ve seen it multiple times and still gasp when (spoiler) a full-size seaplane flies in and crashes on the large, water-filled set in front of the audience. Don't miss the show, which also features amazing stunts and actors who clearly are having a great time delighting their audience. Note: If you don't want to get soaked, pay attention to the color-coded seating system and choose a "dry zone" seat.

We also like the great Animal Actors show.

8. Bring sunscreen, a water bottle, snacks and an extra outfit for those wearing Hogwarts robes

My family members each carry a small backpack with a few essentials: sunscreen and a hat; a water bottle (we use the BPA-free Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle ); snacks and Ziplock bags for our phones in case we get splashed. We also each use a lanyard and ID holder for our tickets.

Your bags will be searched by security before you enter the park, and glass containers are prohibited. Once inside the park, several of the rides — including the Mummy and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — require you to store all of your belongings in a small free locker before riding. You can also rent a day-use locker (prices vary depending on the size you need).

If your Harry Potter fan is wearing Hogwarts robes and the colors of their favorite House, consider packing an outfit more suitable for the rest of the day of sun, heat and rides after taking some great photos in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter .

9. Vet your options for meals and souvenirs

One of the best options for a meal at the park is Three Broomsticks in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can enjoy fish and chips, a chicken platter, Cornish pasties with salad, smoked turkey leg, shepherd's pie with salad and other items that have not been fried beyond recognition.

Our teens also enjoy having one of the super-sweet butter beers here, available in several variations, including our favorite: frozen. It's best to enjoy this popular restaurant for an early lunch or later in the afternoon to beat the crowds.

In addition to shelling out for a meal, you will no doubt want a souvenir or two. You can purchase very cool Harry Potter-themed stamps at the Owl Post shop, which you can use as actual postage, as well as stuffed owls. Buy a wand from Ollivanders and you can use it to perform lots of "magic" by pointing it at objects in Hogsmeade’s shop windows. You’ll find lots of merchandise in each of Hogwarts' four house colors, including scarves perfect for your next Quidditch match.

For even more tips and tricks for navigating Harry Potter-land, check out our very best secrets for a magical visit to the Wizarding World .

10. Don't miss fun before and after at Universal CityWalk

Universal Studios Hollywood is adjacent to  Universal CityWalk , a collection of shops, restaurants and a movie theater that opens earlier than the park does, and stays open after it closes.

Here you can grab a coffee and a treat at Portland-based Voodoo Doughnut on your way to the park, or have dinner and catch a movie after you leave.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2018 and was updated most recently for 2022.

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Related Topics

  • Films/Movies
  • Theme Parks

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About the author.

Kathleen F. Miller

Kathleen F. Miller is a Sammamish-based mother of two. She is a Northwest native, raised on Bainbridge Island and a loyal University of Washington Husky. When not teaching art, volunteering or writing about parenting, health, green living or travel, she can be found at the Marymoor dog park racing after her giant black dog, Lottie.

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17 Easy Steps to the BEST Universal Studios Itinerary (2023)

Globe at Universal Orlando Resort. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Florida itinerary and things to do.

Do you have your Universal Studios Itinerary ready so that you can Ride the movies and be a star ?

This is (or was) Universal Studios Florida’s claim to fame when it first opened.

You can still see remaining relics of the past, but things have shifted into dominant franchises of today.

Now, I am not a stickler of living in the past, but I still do miss classic attractions such as the ORIGINAL King Kong ride KONGfrontation.

..but we’re not here for nostalgia.

Let’s jump right into the best one-day itinerary for Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Arches. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY  DISCLOSURE  FOR MORE INFO.  Which means if you click on certain links, I may receive a small commission at no additional charge to you.

1. Purchase Tickets Online and Download the Park Map

Purchase tickets, download a park guide, and map out your day prior to coming to Universal Studios Florida.

Universal Studios guide and tips

All a part of your Universal Studios packing checklist, which you can read here.

Get up to 25% off of your Universal Orlando Vacation with Groupon TODAY!

2. Get an Early Start

Remember that the key to accomplishing this one-day adventure is to arrive at Universal Studios early.

Universal Orlando Resort NikkyJ in front of Arches at HHN Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Try to arrive forty-five minutes prior to the gates opening. If eligible for early park admission, then take advantage of the opportunity.

Hipster Power Tip: Map out your day and make a list of your must do favorite attractions. Here are the best rides at Universal Studios Florida!

3. Discover Minion Land

Begin in Minion Land and head towards Despicable Me. This 3-D simulator ride is based off the hilarious animated movies.

Universal Orlando Resort Minions at Universal Studios during Christmas. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

It’s one of Universal’s most popular rides, so you’ll want to do this one right away or at the end of the day.

Universal Studios Orlando Florida Minion Land Villain Con Store and Merchandise. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

There are also new and exciting attractions and experiences that you can enjoy while in Minion Land such as:

  • Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast
  • Minion Café
  • Bake My Day
  • Freeze Ray Pops
  • Evil Stuff Store
  • Super Silly Store
  • Character Meet-and-Greet at the Illumination Theater

Universal Studios Orlando Florida Minion Land Villain Con with Scarlet and Balthazar Bratt. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Hipster Power Tip: You can judge the busyness of the park by looking at the wait time for Despicable Me. If the wait time is above 60-minutes, expect for a crowded day at Universal Studios.

4. Party on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Roller Coaster

On this high speed steel coaster, you choose the musical soundtrack to take you through the thrilling drops, twists, and turns.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Overlooking Plaza at Universal Studios. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

It’s one of the fastest rides at Universal Orlando Resort and it’s also an opportunity for you to get some great views of the park. That’s if you have you eyes open 🙂

Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It at Universal Studios. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Just be sure to use the Single Rider Line option if you’re on a solo Universal Orlando trip!

2023 Groupon Universal Studios Orlando Deal: How to Save THE MOST Money on Tickets

5. Ride Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

This is one of the rides where you can take a break from the Florida heat and join Jimmy Fallon from the Tonight Show as he takes you flying through all of the famous attractions of New York city!

Jimmy Fallon Museum at Universal Studios. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Just know that completing the Race through New York attraction takes a while since you’ll need to go through the pre-show before you get on the actual ride.

Universal Orlando Resort Jimmy Fallon Ride at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Hipster Power Tip: Put 35 minutes aside to complete this attraction once you walk through the doors.

6. Join the Cause and Ride Transformers

Transformers: The Ride-3D is another 3-D motion simulator just like the Spider-Man ride over in Islands of Adventure .

Transformers the Ride 3D Entrance next to Bull's Gym Sign. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

On this journey you will head into the headquarters of NEST (Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty) to learn how to battle the Decepticons.

Universal Orlando Resort NikkyJ using Single Rider Line on Transformers the Ride 3d on a solo trip at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

The Single Rider Line option is available here and perfect if wait times are greater than 30 minutes.

ORDER NOW to secure your Universal Studios theme park ticket! GET MY TICKETS.

7. Conquer the Revenge of the Mummy Roller Coaster

This is my favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida!

Revenge of the Mummy Ride at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Revenge of the Mummy is an indoor roller coaster dark ride. It is highly themed with props prompting you to believe you’re on the set of the Mummy movie.

Universal Orlando Resort Revenge of the Mummy Ride at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

The wait time for my favorite ride is always pretty decent. It rarely goes beyond 40 minutes , unless it’s a super crowded day.

Universal Orlando Resort Universal Studios Florida The Revenge of the Mummy Ride. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Since Fast and the Furious is near this ride, I recommend riding it right after you get off Revenge of the Mummy.

Universal Orlando Resort Universal Studios Florida The Revenge of the Mummy Ride Single Rider Line. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Or you could just skip the Fast and Furious ride and head directly to Diagon Alley …just saying.

Universal Orlando Resort the Revenge of the Mummy Ride at Universal Studios Florida hidden secrets. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Hipster Power Tip: The queue for the Revenge of the Mummy attraction has wonderful interactive effects. If the wait time is low, then skip the Single Rider Line and go through the regular queue.

8. Explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley

Prepare to spend quite some time exploring this magical section of Universal Studios. Diagon Alley is the second installment of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Diagon Alley Entrance in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Photo copyright ThemeParkHipster. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

The other portion is located within Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) .

Here’s Your Personal Diagon Alley Universal Studios Itinerary:

  • Chat with the Conductor in front of the Knight Bus
  • Ride Escape from Gringotts
  • Browse the shops of Diagon Alley
  • Discover the nooks and crannies of Knockturn Alley
  • Have butterbeer ice-cream from Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour
  • Check out Celestina Warbeck
  • Watch the Tales of Beedle the Bard
  • Visit Ollivander’s Wand Shop
  • Look for the pesky house elf peeking out the window of Sirius Black’s townhouse on Grimmaud Place
Top 10 Best Souvenirs from Harry Potter World at Universal (2023)

9. Have Lunch at The Leaky Cauldron

It’s time to take a break and enjoy a delicious lunch. Here you can grab traditional British food as you’re whisked away into the magical world of Harry Potter.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley: Leaky Cauldron with cafeteria style seating at lunch. Photo copyright ThemeParkHipster. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Hipster Power Tip: Stay onsite at one of the resorts that include Express Passes as a perk. This will allow you to skip the lines and make your day much smoother and easier.

You will also be able to enjoy every attraction within in decent amount of time.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Guide YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEEDED

10. Ride Men in Black Alien Attack

This is an interactive point and shoot laser ride. Similar in style as Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin over at Disney’s Magic Kingdom .

Men in Black Alien Attack entrance at Universal Studios Orlando. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

I suck at this ride, but you can do much better than me.

Universal Orlando Resort Men in Black Alien Attack Ride at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

The laser guns are on auto-fire, which means if you hold the trigger down the entire time, then your score can go higher.

Men in Black Alien Attack Ride at Universal Studios Aliens Working preparing Universal Studios Itinerary.

Hipster Power Tip: To get the bonus 100,000 points, press the flashing light in front of you when you hear Rip Torn say the “b” in “Hit the red button.”

11. Explore Springfield U.S.A.

The Simpson-inspired section of the park is very lively and so much fun. While you’re over there you’ll want to ride the Simpsons Ride and Kang & Kudos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl.

17 Easy tips for universal studios florida Duff Beer garden in Springfield preparing Universal Studios Itinerary.

The Simpsons Ride will take you on a whimsical, snarky tour through Krustyland’s Theme Park.

Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

It’s a simulator thrill ride that lasts about five minutes with 10 minute pre-shows.

Simpsons Lard Lad Donuts at Universal. Giant statue preparing Universal Studios Itinerary.

Kang & Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl is a spinning flying saucer ride inspired by the devious aliens of the Simpsons show.

Kang and Kudo Twirl n Hurl Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios preparing Universal Studios Itinerary.

Just be sure to visit the Kwik-E-Mart to grab all the best Simpson-inspired merchandise!

Snack Time: Grab a Chicken and Waffle sandwich from Cletus’ Chicken Shack . It’s a Universal Studios must have snack. It’s my go-to spot at Universal Studios Orlando and I know you will love it!

12. Ride the Classic E.T. Adventure

The only original ride left at Universal Studios .

Universal Orlando Resort ET Adventure entrance at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

This gondola dark ride is based on the blockbuster movie, E.T. It still has the classic theme park ride feel and is a nice ride to go through during your day at Universal Studios.

Universal Orlando Resort ET Adventure ride at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Get up to 25% off of your Universal Studios Tickets with Groupon TODAY!

13. Experience Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show.

This is a hilarious show that gives behind-the-scenes movie makeup tricks. It’s a bit gory due to the subject matter, but is also lots of fun!

Universal Orlando Resort Horror Make Up Show Showtimes at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show is one of those hidden gems of the park that you absolutely must-do.

Disney vs Universal: Which is Better for You?

14. Enjoy the Shopping and Roadside Entertainment Throughout Universal Studios

Now it’s time to shop and grab some of the best theme park merchandise at Universal Studios Florida!

Universal Orlando Resort Entrance to Spongebob Storepants at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Some of my favorite shopping spots are:

  • Spongebob Store Pants
  • Kwik-E-Mart
  • Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes
  • Park Plaza Holiday Shop

Ready to plan your theme park trip? Watch the best vacation planning tips on YouTube. Get started here!

15. Watch the Bourne Stuntacular show

This is a 20 minute stunt show, located on Hollywood Boulevard in Universal Studios, is one of the best theme park shows in the country.

The Bourne Stuntacular Universal Studios Florida preparing Universal Studios Itinerary.

You’ll enjoy this nice break from the Florida heat by jumping into an adventure with Jason Bourne as he dips and dives through some of the most spectacular thrills tricks!

Universal Orlando Resort NikkyJ in front of Bourne Stuntacular Show at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

This is one show at Universal that you CAN’T MISS!!!

Recommended: 1 Day in Orlando Itinerary: What Should I Do That’s NOT Theme Parks?

16. Re-Ride Your Favorite Rides and Attractions

Now it’s time to go back and ride some of the best rides that you’ve experienced on your Universal Studios trip.

The Simpsons Ride in Springfield at Universal Studios Florida rainy night. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

You can even get that delicious treat from the new Minion Cafe or amazing crepe at Central Park Crepe.

Universal Orlando Resort Central Park Crepes with NikkyJ eating Brisket Crepe on Solo Trip at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

And because you followed my itinerary for Universal Studios, you now have time to sit back, relax and enjoy a nice drink with a view of the lagoon.

Universal Orlando Resort Lombard's Landing Seafood Restaurant at Universal Studios Florida view of bruce the shark in San Fransisco lagoon boat dock. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Read Next: How to Find the BEST Vacation Home Rentals Near Disney World

17. Grab a Beer from Duff Brewery and Watch the Nighttime Lagoon Show When it Returns

The best way to end a wonderful day at Universal Studios is with a smooth adult beverage, an entertaining show, and a spectacular view once it returns!

universal studios lagoon overlooking red hollywood rip ride rock it roller coaster. preparing Universal Studios Itinerary.

This nighttime lagoon show  features characters from all of your favorite Universal attractions with a new storyline, music, lighting, and special effects.

Just note that it’s currently postponed at the moment of updating this guide.

What to Expect at Universal Studios Florida

Now that you know that I’m here to help you plan the best itinerary for Universal Studios Orlando , let’s go over what to know before you get to Universal Studios Florida.

Universal Orlando Resort Maryland Monroe Character at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

What time does Universal Studios open?

Universal Studios Florida is open 365 days a year 9 a.m to 6 p.m. in the regular season and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the peak season.

Universal Orlando Resort Mel's Drive Diner at Universal Studios Florida. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Please know that the hours may change based on the busyness of the park.

How much does it cost to go to Universal Studios in Florida?

The cost of admission starts at $109 , but I like discounts so I use sites like the Groupon  and The Park Prodigy to find cheap Universal Studios tickets.

Universal Orlando Resort Ticket. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Can you do Universal Studios Orlando in one day?

Yes you can if you come with a great plan! As you can see, this list has some of the top hitting attractions on it, but you can eliminate or add any item you feel fits your type of day.

Transformers the ride entrance. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

Recommended: The Solo Theme Park Traveler’s Guide

My Final Thoughts on Your Perfect Universal Studios Itinerary

As you can see, Universal Studios Florida has something to offer everyone with any type of vacation goal.

Universal Orlando Resort NikkyJ enjoying a margarita at Chez Alcatraz with Jaws Bruce the Shark in background at Universal Studios. Keep reading to get the best Universal Studios Orlando, Florida itinerary and must-do list!

My goal is for you to be able to conquer every top attraction and experience in the park all in one day.

Minion Mayhem ride during Universal Studios Mardi Gras preparing Universal Studios Itinerary.

Whether you’re going solo , have a big family reunion , or enjoying a romantic day , you’ll never run out of things to discover.

Theme Park Travel Guide to the Best Universal Studios one day guide and itinerary.

What’s your favorite route to take at Universal Studios? Let me know in the comments section below.

Until next time, Happy Park Hopping Hipsters!

If you enjoyed this Universal Studios Itinerary Guide, then you’ll love these:

  • Islands of Adventure One-Day Itinerary
  • Best Photo Spots at Islands of Adventure
  • The Best Photo Spots at Universal Studios
  • (REVIEW) Toothsome Chocolate Emporium: Should you go?
  • A Celebration of Harry Potter Tips and Tricks
  • 7 Ways to Enjoy The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade
  • What You Need to Pack for Universal Orlando
  • Diagon Alley Grand Opening from A-Z
  • Signs You’re Already Addicted to Diagon Alley

Hoop Dee Doo Revue NikkyJ Dinner Show Disney World. Author bio of theme park expert Nikida Metellus.

About the Author

My name is Nikky. I’m a wife, a mother, a pharmacist turned theme park blogger, USA Today 10Best Contributor , and a writer who loves ALL things amusement park related!

Traveling alone to the parks has changed my life and I want to show how you can create your own solo theme park memories.

Connect with me on Instagram!

(Original Article Date: February 6, 2019/Updated July 20, 2023)

Share this article!

4 thoughts on “17 Easy Steps to the BEST Universal Studios Itinerary (2023)”

What a fabulous post on Universal Orlando. We are headed to the one Hollywood, CA in a few months. I’m so excited, it’s going to be a total blast!

Thanks! You’re going to have a blast at Universal Studios Hollywood. I just posted our Universal Studios Hollywood Vlog . I can’t wait to go back 🙂

Great tips! We are going in 3 weeks! So they ARE having their nighttime lagoon show?

I hope you had a great time at Universal. What was your favorite attraction at the park?

Leave a Comment Cancel reply

Marcie in Mommyland

17 Must-Read Tips for Universal Studios Hollywood with Kids

Posted on Last updated: November 1, 2023

Home » Destinations » California » Universal Studios » 17 Must-Read Tips for Universal Studios Hollywood with Kids

17 Must-Read Tips for Universal Studios Hollywood with Kids

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Are you thinking about visiting Universal Studios on your next family vacation? Don’t miss these must-know tips for Universal Studios Hollywood with kids from a family who has visited multiple times.

This list of tips for universal studios hollywood with kids was written by family travel expert marcie cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, i may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog..

We’ve visited Universal Studios Hollywood several times throughout the years. Most recently, we did a day trip there for Spring Break.

Our main reason for planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood during Spring Break was to ride Mario Kart at the new Super Nintendo World.

But, our kids also love hanging out in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and you never have to twist our arms to do that!

Since we’ve been to this Southern California theme park a few times, I figured it was about time that I wrote up some of our personal Universal Studios tips and tricks!

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Universal Studios Hollywood blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Universal Studios with kids.

Where to Stay at Universal Studios Hollywood

  • Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City (we’ve stayed here twice and it’s the closest hotel to the park)
  • Sheraton Universal Hotel (it’s right behind the Hilton and still within walking distance of the park)
  • The Garland (this is a 5-minute drive from the park and has a boutique vibe)

How to Get Discount Universal Studios Hollywood Tickets

  • 1-Day Admission
  • 2-Day Admission
  • Universal Express
  • VIP Tickets

planning trip to universal studios california

Where is Universal Studios California?

Universal Studios Hollywood is located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County, California. It is about 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles and about 5 miles west of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Hotels by Universal Studios Hollywood

Hilton los angeles/universal city.

This hotel is located just a short walk from the park entrance and offers luxurious accommodations with stunning views of the Hollywood Hills. We’ve stayed here twice and it’s super convenient, especially with the free shuttle service.

Hilton Lost Angeles/Universal City

Guests can enjoy amenities such as an outdoor pool, fitness center, and on-site dining options. Check the latest rates and availability .

Sheraton Universal Hotel

Another great option for guests looking to stay close to Universal Studios Hollywood is the Sheraton Universal Hotel. This hotel features modern guest rooms and suites, an outdoor pool, and a fitness center.

Sheraton Universal Hotel

Guests can also take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary shuttle service to the park. Check the latest rates and availability .

The Garland

The Garland is a stylish and retro-inspired hotel located just a mile from Universal Studios Hollywood. Guests can enjoy amenities such as a heated outdoor pool, fitness center, and on-site restaurant.

The Garland

The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle service to and from the park. Check the latest rates and availability .

Save Money with Points Here are the best credit card offers for families who travel and want to use points to pay for airfare and hotels.

BLVD Hotel & Spa

The BLVD Hotel & Spa is a trendy and modern hotel located just a short drive from Universal Studios Hollywood. This hotel offers spacious and stylish guest rooms, an outdoor pool, and a full-service spa.

BLVD Hotel & Spa

Guests can also enjoy complimentary shuttle service to and from the park. Check the latest rates and availability .

Tilt Hotel Universal/Hollywood

The Tilt Hotel Universal/Hollywood offers budget-friendly accommodations just a mile from Universal Studios Hollywood. Guests can enjoy amenities such as a heated outdoor pool, fitness center, and complimentary breakfast.

Tilt Hotel Universal/Hollywood

The hotel also offers a free shuttle service to the park. Check the latest rates and availability .

Deals for Universal Studios Hollywood Tickets

We’re all looking for cheap Universal Studios Hollywood tickets, right? I can’t promise you cheap, but I will say that Get Away Today offers discounts on all types of Universal Studios Hollywood tickets.

My husband and I did the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP tour on our first trip to the theme park and it was pretty spectacular.

These kids from Despicable Me were a hoot to take photos with at this character meet and greet at Universal Studios Hollywood

We went to the front of the line for all the attractions, got a nice sit-down lunch, and got to walk around TV show sets. Check the latest rates for discounted VIP tours .

Universal Express Pass

We’ve done the Universal Studios Hollywood Express Pass for our last two trips to the theme park with kids and it’s been a lifesaver.

Basically, you get to skip the long line. It’s perfect if you are only spending one day at Universal Studios Hollywood and want to maximize your time. Check the latest rates for discounted Universal Express passes .

1-Day and 2-Day Admission Tickets

If you want the standard Universal Studios Hollywood tickets, you can choose either a 1-day or 2-day pass .

There aren’t any perks but you’ll still be able to do a ton of stuff. Check the latest rates for discounted Universal Studios Hollywood tickets .

Bumblebee and Optimus Prime at Universal Studios Hollywood

Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood

In my opinion, there are two main areas that people like to hang out in at Universal Studios Hollywood. These are the new Super Nintendo World and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Super Nintendo World

The newest area of Universal Studios Hollywood is Super Nintendo World in the lower lot. We visited it a few weeks after it opened and it’s seriously cool. I wrote a whole guide to Super Nintendo World Universal Studios Hollywood .

Check out these expert tips for Super Nintendo World Universal Studios Hollywood by top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of a dad and two boys walking into Super Nintendo World.

There’s just one ride here: Mario Kart Bowser’s Challenge . You’ll walk through Bowsers Castle before going on an Augmented Reality race. It’s super fun for kids and adults!

If you have standard park tickets, you’ll need to make a reservation for the virtual line pass for a one-time entry. If you have Universal Express passes or are part of a VIP tour, you can just walk right in.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

This is the other major attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. While it’s not as massive as the one in Florida, it’s still completely immersive.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogwarts

There are two rides that are pretty fun. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a super fast but quick rollercoaster. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is an immersive dark ride where you’ll feel like a part of the story.

There’s also a photo op with the Hogwarts Express (no the train doesn’t go anywhere) and performances throughout the day.

It’s also one of the best places to shop at Universal Studios Hollywood. You can get a monogrammed Hogwarts robe, a wand from Olivander’s, and stock up on treats!

Besides the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there are tons of attractions in the Upper Lot.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

The simpsons ride, the secret life of pets: off the leash, the dreamworks theatre featuring kung fu panda, silly swirly fun ride.

Besides Super Nintendo World, there are several attractions in the Lower Lot.

Jurassic World: The Ride

Revenge of the mummy, transformers the ride: 3-d, how long does it take to get between the upper lot and the lower lot.

The Upper and Lower Lots at Universal Studios Hollywood are connected by a series of escalators, stairs, and elevators. The total walking distance between the two lots is about 0.3 miles.

Image of the escalator at Universal Studios Hollywood

The average time it takes to walk between the two lots is about 10 minutes, but this can vary depending on the time of day and the number of people in the park.

One of my top tips for Universal Studios Hollywood is to do all the rides in the Lower Lot you’d like to do in one go. That way, you’ll avoid going up and down the escalators too many times.

Best Rides at Universal Studios Los Angeles for Kids

Most of the best rides for kids are located in the Upper Lot.

If you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with toddlers, this ride should be high on your list. It’s located in the Super Silly Fun Land and it’s basically like riding Dumbo at Disneyland.

Image of a mom and boy on the Silly Swirl Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

The line is usually short and kids can play in the play area while someone waits in line. There is no height requirement but kids under 48″ will need to ride with an adult.

If you have a Minions fan, they will definitely want to do this ride! It’s sort of like a virtual rollercoaster. So, if anyone feels a little woozy, they can just close their eyes. Kids need to be at least 40″ to ride.

This is my kids’ favorite ride, hands-down. Even the line has plenty of things to look at as you meander through the apartments. They even have little videos playing in one part.

Secret Life of Pets Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

The ride itself is really adorable and reminds me of the Monsters Inc. ride at Disneyland. Kids need to be at least 38″ to ride.

My kids haven’t seen the TV show, but my 9-year-old LOVES this ride! It’s sort of similar to Despicable Me Minion Mayhem but with a different storyline. Kids need to be at least 40″ to ride.

Mario Kart Bowser’s Challenge

The newest ride at Universal Studios Hollywood is Mario Kart Bowser’s Challenge in Super Nintendo World.

Image of a mom and son in the Mario Kart Bowser's Challenge ride at Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood.

My kids thought it was super fun to try to defeat Team Bowser (especially after watching the movie). But, since it’s a new ride, it usually has super long wait times. Kids need to be at least 40″ to ride Mario Kart.

I would almost say this is more of a show than a ride. It’s a 4D movie experience where the seats move as you go on a short adventure with the gang from Kung Fu Panda.

It’s really cute and a great way to get out of the sun for a bit. There is no height requirement.

Best Universal Studios Hollywood Rides for Thrill Seekers

If you’re looking for a water ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, this is it! You’ll hop in a boat and explore Jurassic World before splashing down into a pool of water. Kids need to be at least 42″ to ride.

My 9-year-old loves rollercoasters so he thought he’d also like this ride. It turns out it was pretty creepy for him. But it definitely has all the thrill factors. Kids need to be at least 48″ to ride.

This is another dark ride on a track where you’re immersed in a Transformers storyline. The ride itself isn’t super intense but the action on the screen amplifies everything. Kids need to be at least 40″ to ride.

The Flight of the Hippogriff

This is the only actual rollercoaster at Universal Hollywood. It’s really short and kids just need to be at least 39″ to ride.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

This is a really immersive ride through Hogwarts and the surrounding area. You even get to be part of a quidditch match!

Kids need to be at least 48″ to ride, so double-check their height. You can also just walk through Hogwarts and skip the line (or rider swap) if they are too short.

What to do at Universal Studios Hollywood Besides Rides

Another one of my tips for Universal Studios Hollywood is to add is some activities that AREN’T rides. There are plenty of other Universal Studios Hollywood attractions.

Character Meet and Greets

You really never know who you might meet at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Typically, we see minions, Gru, and even the girls near the Despicable Me area. It’s all set up for photo ops.

There’s also Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, and Megatron in the Transformers area. They usually interact a lot with guests so it’s always fun to take videos here.

Image of Princess Peach posing with a family at Super Nintendo World Universal Studios Hollywood

In the new Super Nintendo World area, you’ll be able to meet Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach at designated times.

On our last trip to Universal Hollywood, we also saw the gang from Scooby Doo, Trolls, Shrek, and Simpsons characters.

Located in the Jurassic World area in the Lower Lot, DinoPlay is an interactive play area for little kids. There’s a place to dig for dinosaur fossils, check out a full-size T-Rex skull, and run across a rope plank bridge.

Super Silly Fun Land is an elaborate play zone near the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. There’s a play structure, seating, and lots of shade.

Wand Magic in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

If you decide to splurge on a wand at Olivander’s or the wand stand, you’ll get a map that shows you where you can perform magic spells in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Image of two boys wearing Harry Potter robes and scarves at Universal Studios Hollywood.

There are usually staff members around who will help kids do the spells correctly so they can make sounds happen or watch things move. It’s really quite entertaining!

Universal Studios Hollywood Shows

There are also several shows if your family needs a break from the rides (or waiting in line).

The most popular show at Universal Studios Hollywood is WaterWorld . It features jumping jet skiers, perilous plunges, firefights, massive explosions, and a crazy plane crash you need to see to believe.

There’s also the Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally shows in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Carnival Games

If you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with kids, they will probably beg to do the carnival games. These are located in the Despicable Me area and the Simpsons area .

Image of two boys playing carnival games at Universal Studios Hollywood

The games cost money and are not included in your theme park ticket.

World Famous Studio Tour

I don’t really classify the World Famous Studio Tour as a ride, even though there are some ride elements to it.

Basically, it’s a nice break from the theme park where you can rest your legs and see some cool movie magic.

If you have young kids who need a nap or some quiet time, try to do this in the afternoon.

Shopping at Universal Studios Hollywood

If you are a movie buff, you’ll probably have just as much fun perusing the gift shops as you will going on the rides!

Image of the interior of Honeydukes in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

While we had fun checking out all the new Super Mario Bros merchandise on this last trip, we also love popping into Honeydukes in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to pick up treats.

Best Food at Universal Studios Hollywood

I want to start off by saying that if you are a “foodie”, you probably won’t be wowed by much in the theme park. It’s all pretty standard theme park food.

However, there are a few things that stand out to me that I figured I’d share with you.

I’m a total carb addict and love getting hot pretzels at theme parks. I have to say, the ones at Universal Studios Hollywood are by far the best ones!

Universal Studios Hollywood Pretzel

We like to stop at the stand in between the escalators. They are drizzled with hot butter and you can get a cheesy dip that has a kick.

Pasties at Hog’s Head

These are small, savory pastries that are filled with meat, vegetables, and cheese. They are the perfect snack or light meal. And they are easy to eat on the go.

I realize this isn’t technically food, but it’s so good that I needed to mention it at some point. Butterbeer tastes like cream soda mixed with a bit of butterscotch. You’ll find it in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Image of frozen butterbeer at Universal Studios Hollywood

They have traditional Butterbeer, a Butterbeer float, and frozen Butterbeer (which is my favorite).

At Christmas , they have a hot version that is incredible!

Shepherd’s Pie at Finnegan’s Bar & Grill

This is a classic Irish dish that is perfect for a cold day. The ground beef is cooked with vegetables and topped with a creamy mashed potato topping. You can find it near the Simpsons ride.

Planning a Trip to Universal Studios Hollywood Tips and Tricks

If you’re planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood, we’ve got you covered with some helpful tips and tricks to make your visit a success!

Buy Tickets in Advance

Purchasing your tickets online in advance will save you time and money. You’ll also avoid waiting in long lines at the ticket booth. Get discount tickets here .

Arrive Early

The park tends to be less crowded in the morning, so arriving early will give you a chance to experience more attractions before the crowds arrive.

And if you’re planning on visiting Super Nintendo World, you might want to splurge for early access tickets to enter the land a full hour before the park opens.

Check the Schedule

Make sure to check the schedule of shows and attractions before your visit so you can plan your day accordingly.

Download the Universal Studios Hollywood App

Universal Studios Hollywood has a free app that will provide you with real-time information about wait times, show schedules, and more.

Bring Sunscreen and Comfortable Shoes

Southern California can get hot, and you’ll be doing a lot of walking, so make sure to bring sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes.

We’re from Seattle and my husband’s neck got toasty because he forgot to re-apply his sunscreen.

Use the Single Rider Line

If you don’t mind riding alone or splitting up your group, the Single Rider Line can save you a lot of time and get you on popular attractions faster.

Take Advantage of the Child Swap Program

If you have young children who are too small to ride certain attractions, you can take advantage of the Child Swap program.

One adult can wait with the child while the other rides, and then they can switch without having to wait in line again.

Get the Express Pass

If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, the Express Pass will allow you to skip the regular lines at most attractions.

Universal Studios Hollywood Parking Tips

The earlier you arrive, the better chance you have of getting a spot in the general parking lot.

Image of Universal Studios Hollywood Parking garage

Consider parking in one of the preferred parking lots. These lots are closer to the entrance of the park and cost more, but they can save you time in the long run.

Take advantage of the Universal CityWalk parking structure. This structure is connected to the park and offers a variety of payment options.

How to do Universal Studios Hollywood in One Day

Doing Universal Studios Hollywood in one day can be a bit of a challenge, but with some careful planning and strategy, it’s definitely doable!

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your one day at the park:

As mentioned before, arriving early is key to avoiding crowds and experiencing more attractions. Aim to get to the theme park at least 30 minutes before it opens.

They usually start letting people in through the main gates about 15-20 minutes before the park opens. Then, you can move closer to the area you want to rope drop.

You can also purchase an early access ticket for Super Nintendo World.

Prioritize Your Must-See Attractions

Before your visit, make a list of the attractions you absolutely must see, and plan to hit those first. This might include popular rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or the Transformers ride.

It also helps to show your kids YouTube videos of what some of the rides are like so they know whether or not they’d like to do them.

And I suggest measuring your kids before you go and check to see which rides they can and can’t do base on their height. This will minimize tears at the ride entrance.

As mentioned in the previous answer, the Single Rider Line can save you a lot of time, so take advantage of it when possible.

This works out great if only one adult/teen wants to do a ride. Then everyone else can do a different ride at the same time.

Take Advantage of Show Times

Shows like WaterWorld and the Special Effects Show have set times throughout the day, so make sure to check the schedule and plan your day around these performances.

Eat on the Go

To save time, consider eating snacks or quick meals on the go. There are plenty of food carts and quick-service restaurants throughout the park.

Honestly, the food at Universal Studios Hollywood isn’t amazing, so if you want to maximize your time, just do grab-and-go stuff.

However, if you all need a break from running around, sitting down to eat might re-energize you enough to stay out later.

Consider the Express Pass

If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, the Express Pass can help you skip the regular lines and experience more attractions in less time.

It’s really like cramming everything you’d do with a 2-day pass into one day. Check Express Pass rates and availability .

Use the Child Swap Program

If you have young children who are too small to ride certain attractions, take advantage of the Child Swap program to maximize your time.

It’s a great way to let older kids get to do a ride twice!

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

While it’s important to have a strategy in place, don’t forget to have fun! Universal Studios Hollywood is an incredibly fun and immersive experience, so make sure to enjoy yourself and take in all the sights and sounds of the park.

By following these tips, you can experience the best of Universal Studios Hollywood in just one day!

Seasonal Events at Universal Studios Hollywood

4th of july celebration.

There’s a cool fireworks display on the 4th of July as well as some other events.

Halloween Horror Nights

Commonly considered Southern California’s scariest Halloween event, Halloween Horror Nights is not for the faint of heart. In fact, they recommend it only for people ages 13 and older.

It features terrifying haunted houses, the Terror Tram, sinister scare zones, outrageous entertainment, and exhilarating attractions.

If you visit Universal Studios Hollywood during the holiday season, you’ll get to experience Grinchmas! We did this one year and it’s a blast!

Image of two boys posing with a fake snowman at Universal Studios Hollywood

Don’t miss Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It really is magical, especially when the snow falls in the evening!

EVE at Universal Studios Hollywood

If you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood on December 31, be prepared for multiple dance parties and a midnight countdown celebration with fireworks.

Universal Studios Hollywood FAQs

How do you get the most at universal studios hollywood.

To get the most out of your visit to Universal Studios Hollywood, it’s important to plan ahead and prioritize the attractions and shows you want to see.

You can also consider purchasing a Universal Express Pass to skip the lines and maximize your time in the park. Additionally, be sure to check the park’s website for special events and promotions to take advantage of during your visit.

How much are Universal Studios Hollywood tickets?

The price of Universal Studios Hollywood tickets varies depending on the day of your visit and whether you purchase them online or at the gate. As of February 2023, the cost of a 1-day ticket is $109 if purchased online or $129 if purchased at the gate.

You can save money by purchasing a multi-day ticket or an annual pass. The cost of a 2-day ticket is $199 online and $229 at the gate. The cost of an annual pass starts at $99 per month.

How big is Universal Studios Hollywood?

Universal Studios Hollywood is a 415-acre entertainment complex located in Los Angeles, California. The theme park itself covers 67 acres and includes a variety of attractions, rides, and shows.

Can you bring baby food to Universal Studios Hollywood?

Yes, you can bring baby food to Universal Studios Hollywood. The park allows guests to bring in food and drinks, as long as they are not in glass containers or large quantities.

This includes baby food, formula, and other dietary needs. You can also bring in a soft-sided cooler, but it must be no larger than 8.5 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches.

How does the virtual line for Super Nintendo World work?

First, download the Universal Studios Hollywood app on your smartphone. Open the app and sign in to your account. Tap the “Virtual Line” icon at the bottom of the screen.

Select “Super Nintendo World” from the list of attractions. Enter the number of people in your party and pick a time slot. Finally, tap “Join Virtual Line”.

Is the animal encounters show still running at Universal Studios Hollywood?

No, the Animal Actors show closed on January 1, 2023. The show featured a variety of animals, including dogs, birds, and pigs, performing tricks and stunts.

It was one of the longest-running shows at Universal Studios Hollywood, having been in operation since 1963.

What’s the best day to go to Universal Studios Hollywood?

The best day to go to Universal Studios Hollywood may vary depending on factors such as crowd levels, weather, and special events.

Generally, weekdays and non-peak seasons are less crowded than weekends and peak seasons. I also suggest arriving early in the day and considering purchasing a Universal Express Pass to skip the lines.

How long do you need at Universal Studios Hollywood?

The amount of time needed at Universal Studios Hollywood varies depending on factors such as crowd levels and the number of attractions you want to see. Generally, a full day (8-10 hours) is recommended to see all the attractions and shows in the park.

What’s the airport near Universal Studios Hollywood?

The nearest airport to Universal Studios Hollywood CA is the Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR), which is located approximately 7 miles away. Other nearby airports include Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Long Beach Airport (LGB), which are both approximately 25 miles away.

Los Angeles Universal Studios Hollywood Wrap Up

Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with kids can be an unforgettable experience. With the right tips and tricks, you can ensure that your family has a fantastic time at this theme park.

Remember to plan ahead and arrive early, take advantage of the Universal Express Pass, and use child swap services for the more intense thrill rides.

One of the highlights of any visit to Universal Studios Hollywood CA is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Be sure to check out Hogwarts Castle, Hogsmeade, and the Forbidden Journey ride.

And for all the gamers in the family, don’t miss out on Super Nintendo World, which offers a uniquely immersive experience. Get your discount Universal Studios Hollywood tickets here .

Looking for more tips for Universal Studios Hollywood? Check out our review of the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Pass , guide to Super Nintendo World , and guide to Christmas at Universal Studios Hollywood !

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Tips for Being a Smart Universal Studios Hollywood Visitor

planning trip to universal studios california

Universal Studios Hollywood is a lot of fun to visit, but with a little knowledge and planning, you can enjoy it even more.

The tips below are based on more there a dozen visits. Someone else made all the rookie mistakes, so you don't have to. This guide will help you have more fun with less hassle.

Whether this is your first visit or your ninety-first, you may also want to know what's new at Universal Studios Hollywood this year .

To find out more about what the park is like, check out the Universal Studios slideshow to see it all - without leaving your chair.

What You Need to Know Before You Visit

TripSavvy / Ashley Nicole DeLeon 

Buy your tickets online before you go. To find out why buying online might save you money, and where to buy your tickets, check the Universal Studios Ticket Guide .

If you want to enjoy Universal without the crowds, go in the fall, winter, or spring (except during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays). Avoid weekends and any public holidays. Summers are not only crowded but hot and best avoided if you can.

You can also get an idea about what days will be most crowded by consulting isitpacked.com .

Special Needs

Visually impaired visitors can be accommodated, and signers can be provided with notice. Call at least two weeks ahead of time to arrange for signers or to discuss any special needs you have.  Check the Universal website for more information .

Taking the Kids to Universal Studios Hollywood

Betsy Malloy Photography

Is Anyone Under 48 Inches Tall?

That's 122 cm if you think metric. Many rides have height limits for safety's sake, so smaller folks don't slide out of the restraints. It applies to everyone, no matter what their age.

If you have children, you may not be able to avoid a temper tantrum when they find out they can't go on the ride they've been dreaming about — but you can keep the uproar at home. Measure their height before you go, check the height restrictions and let them get over it before they arrive.

For some rides, kids shorter than 48 inches can ride if they bring along a Supervising Companion (who must be 14 years or older). The requirements for each ride are listed in the Universal Studios Ride Guide .

Child Switch

If more than one adult is visiting the park with kids who can’t (or don’t want to) go on a ride, you might think that the adults will have to stand in line separately, so someone is always with the kids, taking twice as long for every ride.

At Universal, you don't have to do that. At any ride with a Child Switch option, get in line together. When you reach the ride entrance, one adult rides while the other waits with the kids. When the first adult returns, they swap off. You'll find Child Switch noted outside the ride and on the park maps.

Single Rider

If you are willing to split up from your companions while you're on a ride, you can save time by getting into the Single Rider line. Staffers use single riders to fill empty seats, getting you on faster.

Family restrooms are located on both the upper and lower lots, near the first aid stations.

Things to Do for the Littlest Visitors

The little ones will enjoy the Silly Swirly Ride and the water play area next to the Despicable Me ride.

Kids of any size and age can go to the shows and on the tram tour, too.

Plan Your Day at Universal Studios Hollywood

Time your visit.

Some guides say to arrive 30 minutes before the park's official opening time, which might get you in a few minutes earlier than everyone else. To do that, you need to be driving into the parking garage or getting off the Metro about an hour before opening.

If you plan to arrive mid-day instead, you can sleep late and fuel up before you tackle the park. You'll avoid the crowd that gathers when the gates open and the rush to the rides that happens then. And you'll be there later when wait times start to get shorter. For an attraction that has a 90-minute wait at noon, you may be able to walk straight in by 8:00 p.m. And in summer, it's much cooler (temperature-wise) after sunset.

Plan Your Day

The perfect way to plan your day depends on your preferences, endurance, and a bunch of other things that only you can predict. Use these tips to help figure out how to best spend your day at Universal.

The upper and lower lots are connected by a long series of escalators that take about seven minutes to travel one way. Because of that, you’re better off to do everything on the lower lot in one trip. 

In the summer, the lower lot is hotter than the upper one. If you can, plan to go down there as early in the morning as possible - or after the sun goes down.

Look at the show schedule when you arrive and plan everything else around any of them you want to see.

Ride Jurassic World between morning and mid-afternoon. That will give you a chance to dry out before temperatures drop.

The studio tour closes before the park does. During winter, the last tours of the day can be cold and chilly. The best time to go is mid-day. Even if it's hot, the trams are shaded, and your feet can get a rest.

Take It: What to Take to Universal Studios Hollywood

You already know most of this, but don't be offended by the reminders — and don't be surprised when you find something on the list that you hadn't thought of. Take these things with you:

Patience: Waits can be more than an hour at peak times. If you're short on that, get a VIP Pass to get to the front of the line faster.

Motion-Sickness Remedies:  Many of the rides could turn a sensitive person into a puke-a- saurus. Bring the remedy that works best for you.

Comfortable Shoes : You'd be surprised how many people walk around with blisters on their feet because they just had to wear that stylish pair of shoes.

Quick Drying Clothing: You'll be glad you wore it after Jurassic World - The Ride. Heavy cotton fabrics and jeans get soggy and stay that way for an uncomfortably long time.

For Water Play: If your kids are going to play in the splashy part of Super Silly Funland, bring swimsuits and a towel so you can get them dry afterward. There's a changing area nearby.

Sun Protection: Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, especially in summer.

Glasses Case: You'll need it to put them in, so you don't lose them on the rides.

3-D Glasses: If 3-D glasses give you headaches and you use them often enough at movies and theme parks to justify a $20 to $30 investment, you may want to go shopping before going to Universal. Hank Green’s 2D Glasses turn the 3-D back into 2-D, or you can get circular polarized clip-ons for your everyday glasses. You can also buy and bring your own 3-D glasses, which may have better optical quality than the ones at the park.

More (and Less) Clothing Than You Might Think: Even on a hot summer day, it can get chilly fast after sunset. During the day, it may be hotter than you expect. Check the weather forecast for Studio City, which can be as much as 20°F hotter than the coast during the summer.

Rainy Days: Umbrellas are a hassle in a theme park. Bring a hooded rain jacket or poncho instead. In summer, know that overcast mornings seldom mean rain later.

Leave It: Things Not to Take When You Go to Universal Studios Hollywood

Leave these items behind.

Anything You Don't Need: That includes that pile of store discount cards, the office keys, and anything else you don't need while you're in the park. They take up space and weigh you down. A small waist pack or sling bag works well to carry the rest.

Anything Embarrassing: Your bags will be inspected at the park entrance.

Food and Drinks: They aren't allowed inside the park except for water, fruit, and baby food.

Leave the GoPro at home . Most rides have strict no video/photo policies inside.

Pets: Animals aren't allowed inside the theme park (except for trained service animals). Leave your furry friends somewhere else if you can. If you bring them on your trip and need a kennel, see the information at the end of this guide.

Your Car: If you're staying at a nearby hotel , ask if they have a shuttle. It may save you the cost of parking. If you're too far away for a hotel shuttle, you can ask if there's an MTA station nearby and take that to the Universal Studios stop.

How to Tackle the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Wizarding World is the busiest attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, but with a few tips, you can get the most of it.

  • Think about splitting up your Harry Potter day. Go in the morning for a look around, then go back for a late lunch or dinner at the Three Broomsticks.
  • The magic wands are cute and make a nice souvenir, but you may have to wait in line to use them. By the time you see all those other people in front of you and know what's going to happen, some of the magic is gone.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has tight size restrictions because of the way the seat restraint is designed. It can disqualify even somewhat large people, depending on their shape. There's a test seat near the entrance to the queue where you can see if you fit or not.
  • Unless you're a hardcore Harry Potter fan, skip the sorting hat experience at the wand shop. Only a couple of people in each group get to participate, and the wait can be annoyingly long. If you must go, avoid the morning rush and do it later in the day.
  • The nighttime light show takes place in the summer and during the year-end holidays. If you want to see it, get there early to find an excellent place to watch or wait for a second show, and you can slip into place as others are leaving.

While You're at Universal Studios

Get a good start by choosing the most convenient parking garage. The E.T. garage is the default if you follow the signs. From there, you have to walk the length of CityWalk to get to the park entrance.

You can avoid that long walk and leave the crowds behind if you choose the Frankenstein garage instead. To reach it, exit U.S. Highway 101 at Lankershim Blvd. Go north, then turn right onto Universal Hollywood Drive and look for the lot entrance on the left just past the first curve. From the lot, you will take a series of escalators up to the entry plaza.

Getting Into the Park

  • When you leave your car, write down the name of the parking garage and level you're on — or take a pic.
  • If you brought a lot of stuff but don't want to tote it all around, you could leave the extras in the car and go back for it, but doing that is a time-waster. Instead, rent a locker. They're inside the gate near the entrance.
  • If you need to buy tickets, are using a credit card and don't have coupons to redeem, bypass the lines and go to the self-serve machines instead. They're to the right of the main ticket booths.
  • If you bought your tickets online but didn't print them, you might think the Will Call window is the place to go, but it isn’t. Instead, get into the Guest Services line for assistance.
  • On the way in, it’s easy to mistake the ticket line for the entrance line. Be sure you're in the right one - unless, of course, you like to wait in lines.

Inside the Park

  • First stop: Guest Relations. They have free buttons for you.
  • Don't lug your purchases around all day. Go shopping at the end of the day, or ask to have your purchases held for pickup when you leave. The pickup location is near the exit at the Universal Studios store.
  • The escalators between the upper and lower areas could almost qualify as a ride. They are some of the longest and steepest you may ever encounter. To avoid making the long journey more than once, plan your visit so you can do everything in the Lower Lot before you go back up.
  • Occasionally, guests already feeling the effects of Transformers or Revenge of the Mummy may start to feel so nauseous on the escalators that they decide to get off and use the stairs. If you have mobility issues, baby strollers, or don't like to ride on escalators, ask any staff member where to find the elevator.
  • If you’re a larger person and find that you can’t fit into the rides, you can still enjoy the shows and studio tour. If you feel like you didn't get enough for your money, ask for a refund at Guest Services.
  • If your mobile device needs charging and you have your charger with you, try the Starbucks in the upper lot, which has plenty of electrical outlets. If you forgot your charger, Guest Relations might be able to loan you one.

Food and Drink

  • Food is expensive, and all-you-can-eat dining passes are too unless you're a huge eater. Take a break, but avoid noon when restaurants are busier, and go out to eat at  CityWalk .
  • If you need an adult beverage inside the park, try Hogs Head inside the Three Broomsticks at Wizarding World and Moe's Tavern in the "Springfield" area.

Universal Studios Apps

You can get wait times in several ways: Use the Universal Studios app or check the wait times posted in the park. The Universal Studios Hollywood Mobile App  is the most convenient way to keep track of wait times while you're planning your day in the park.

You'll find the free Universal app on iTunes. For Android, the app is available on Google Play. No matter where you get your app, it's best to download it before you go. Before you use it for the first time, it needs to download data, which can take a few minutes.

Universal Studios Hollywood Visitors Guide

The 10 Best Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood

Christmas Festivities at Universal Studios Hollywood

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride

Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Your Trip to Universal Orlando: The Complete Guide

Your Guide to Visiting Universal Orlando During the Pandemic

Ways to Skip the Lines at Universal Orlando

Plan Your Visit to Universal Orlando

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How to Survive Universal Orlando If You Don't Like Thrill Rides

Universal's Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts: How Scary Is It?

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The Best Time of Year to Visit Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando Tickets: Prices, Discounts, and Where to Buy

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Asher & Lyric Travel & Family Journalism

17 Top Universal Studios California Packing List Items for 2023 + What to Wear & NOT to Bring

california studios packing list

Are you planning the next vacation for yourself and the whole family? Universal Studios in California is the perfect place for a family of all ages to relax and have a blast! Including sections like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, The Simpsons, and more, there is a little something for everyone to enjoy.

Below is a list of everything you may want to pack with you on your trip to Universal Studios, what you should definitely leave at home, FAQs and more.

What to Pack for Universal Studios California- 17 Essentials

1. neck wallet.

While walking around a place as big as Universal Studios, it’s nice to be handsfree, but also have important items available. With this neck wallet, you can keep all your important cards, or maybe you have an express pass (highly recommended) for rides, hotel keys etc. easily accessible and safe right at your fingertips.

Neck Wallet

View on Amazon.com ➜

2. Fanny Pack

Sticking with the theme of hands-free and accessible, having a fanny pack is the easiest way to carry around the rest of your larger items, such as your phone, maps, watches, chapsticks etc. It’s so worth it to not have to reach around for backpacks and so you know everything is safe by your side!

Fanny Pack

3. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Traveling in today’s world can be a little scary, with all the computer hackers and credit card hackers. Protect all your electronics with this virtual private network that allows for all your personal identities to be protected wherever you go.


View NordVPN.com Options ➜

4. Cooling Towel

The best time of year to visit Universal Studios is usually the summer when the days are long and the weather is always sunny. However, those California suns can definitely heat up. Having a cooling towel at your side can be a lifesaver for when the suns start to ramp up and those lines are getting long. Simply just dip the towel in water and it will stay cool for up to 60 minutes!

cooling towel

5. Portable Charger

Phones these days tend to lose charge fairly quickly, which can be a bummer when you are trying to take pictures of the rides and your phone is about to die. I always carry around my portable charger to reassure myself that I will have charge for my phone wherever I go. I recommend this charger because it’s compact and is good for 2 full phone charges.


6. Travel Umbrella

Having an umbrella is way more necessary than you ever imagined. If you are visiting the studios in the fall, winter, or spring, there is a chance of rain, and it’s so great to pull out this umbrella when the storms start to come. Not only rain, but this umbrella is also great to protect against hot sun rays while walking around the park. At only 1 pound and 1 foot long, this is the perfect travel umbrella.

Travel Umbrella

7. Quick-Dry Travel Towel

I always pack my fast-drying travel towels with me whether I am camping, hiking, or just spending a weekend at universal studios! It’s so important to have extra towels wherever you go and these towels are perfect for traveling. They are compact and the microfiber dries 10x faster than a regular towel.

Blue travel towel

8. Packing Cubes

If you are someone (like myself) who stresses out on packing, even for small trips, these packing cubes made my life so much easier and the stress of packing has vanished! This 5 piece packing cube set easily fits everything I need for long trips or just weekend trips. They fit perfectly in my suitcase, and it even comes with 2 laundry bags.

Packing Cubes

9. Waterproof Phone Case

One of the first attractions you’ll come across in Universal Studios is Waterworld. From jet skiers to buckets of water being thrown about, there is a high chance that you will probably get a little wet. You may even choose to go on the Jurassic World ride which is definitely a splash! Don’t get upset about wet devices, and protect your phone before you go in with this waterproof phone case. Easy to carry, and you can even use the screen without taking your phone out.

Universa Waterproof

10. Rain Ponchos

So, as I said, you’ll probably get wet while walking around Universal Studios. If you have a cute outfit on, maybe you just hate walking around with soggy clothes, rain ponchos are for you. Also handy for those sudden rain storms that are known to strike during the spring and fall.

Rain Ponchos

11. Universal Travel Adapter

I don’t travel anywhere without this universal travel adapter. You never know when you may need some extra outlets, and this adapter is small, and compact, making it great for travel.

Power Adaptor

12. Toiletry Bag

Keep all your toiletries in one spot with this super lightweight, easy-to-use toiletry bag! Not only is it a quality bag, it’s also lightweight and great for travel. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, simply just hang it in the bathroom for easy access and all your things stay out of the way. This one also comes in so many cute colors for men and women!

Toiletry Bag

13. Life Straw Water Bottle

Let’s be honest, the price of water bottles inside the park is a bit too crazy. An insider tip-never travel to Universal Studios without packing your own water bottle. With this life straw water bottle, you can fill it up wherever and you won’t have to worry about the quality of the water with its magnificent filtration system. It’s also lightweight and perfect for carrying around.

LifeStraw Water Bottle

14. Stroller

Universal Studios isn’t as large as the other Universal parks, but it is still a very large place and for a young child, walking around a place so much can be exhausting. If you have small children, even ones that may not use strollers often, bringing a stroller is a must for this trip. I highly recommend getting travel insurance, especially when you are spending so much on park tickets, possibly plane rides, etc. If you happen to miss any dates or can’t make the trip, whatever problem may occur, travel insurance has you covered.


15. Travel Insurance

I highly recommend getting travel insurance, especially when you are spending so much on park tickets, possibly plane rides, etc. If you happen to miss any dates or can’t make the trip, whatever problem may occur, travel insurance has you covered. We like to use TravelInsurance.com to compare plans from top companies to find the one that’s best for us and our travel plans.

Travel Insurance

Compare policies at TravelInsurance.com ➜

16. Day Bag

If you aren’t a fanny pack person, or maybe you need more room than a fanny pack, you should probably bring a day bag or a small backpack. Universal Studios does allow everyone to carry one backpack, though they will check it through security, so don’t bring anything suspicious. Pack a few snacks, water bottles, and anything else you may need.

Day Bag

17. Hand Sanitizing Wipes

Any theme park is known for being riddled with all sorts of germs. If you have children, you know how susceptible they are to catching everything under the sun. I like carrying these hand sanitizing wipes with me to wipe down, well literally everything and anything. Better to be safe than sorry!

Hand Sanitizing Wipes

Other Universal Studios California Items Not To Forget

  • Luggage Locks
  • Travel Camera
  • Disposable Camera
  • SPF Chapstick
  • Shoe Insoles
  • Universal Studios California Map
  • Quick Snacks
  • Energy/Hydrating Water Packets
  • Autograph Book
  • Insulated Water Bottle
  • Silicone Earplugs
  • Motion Sickness Medications
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Floating Wrist Strap
  • Sleeping Mask
  • Sunglasses Strap
  • Baby Food Pouches
  • Small Soft Cooler
  • Phone Chargers

What to Wear to Universal Studios California

Universal Studios California

As a woman packing for Universal Studios, be mindful of the weather. Since you will probably want summer-style clothing, think carefully about if you want to be walking around in either skirts or shorts, sandals or sneakers. There will be lots of pictures, so wear something cute, but comfy.

Although it hardly rains in Southern California, you should be cautious and bring a rain jacket just in case. Make sure to pack a few lightweight layers for the chilly mornings and evenings and for those cold restaurants. Be mindful of quality, especially when you are packing your footwear! Whatever shoes you bring, you will be doing lots of walking this trip, so quality footwear will be very important.

Fishing Hats

There isn’t a whole lot in the style difference between what men and women should wear on their trip to Universal Studios in California. Men should also dress comfortably, and fashionably (if they are going to be in a lot of the pictures.) Pack for the hottest weather, but remember to bring light layers for chillier moments.

You don’t have to bring your nicest clothing, but bring clothing that is quality and will suit you for lots of walking, and lots of sun.

Packing for the Seasons

Dry season – april, may, june, july, august, september, october:.

Dry Season

Wet Season – November, December, January, February, March:

Wet Season

Dining: At Universal Studios Hollywood, there are 56 places you can choose from to sit down and eat delicious food for all meals! There are simple places like City Snack Shop and Ben and Jerry’s, to places like Cocaina Mexicana for some amazing Mexican food. My favorite (being a Harry Potter lover) is hands down The Three Broomsticks. There isn’t much in the way for fine dining, so you can leave that fancy tux at home. You can stay comfortable in your comfortable jeans and comfortable jeans. Remember to bring a light sweater in case the AC is blasting!

Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts: One of my favorite events at Universal Studios, is the night time lights that occur at Hogwarts every night from dusk to park close. This is a magnificent light show and such a fun way to end a long day in the park. Being that it is evening, you may want a sweatshirt or a hoodie , if you are there during the “winter” months, you may want a jacket and long pants .

What NOT To Bring To Universal Studios California

1. don't bring expensive items.

Universal Studios is not a place where there is any need for expensive clothes or jewelry. Leave the pricey things at home so you’re not carrying around valuables.

2. DON'T Bring Your Pets

This is an adventure that unfortunately will not involve your furry friend. Universal Studios has a strict no pet policy unless they are service animals. You must stop by guest relations to show the paperwork for your service animal and register them for walking around the park.

3. DON'T Bring Lots of Layers

Save room in your suitcase by leaving all those extra layers behind. A pair of jeans, a pair of leggings, t-shirts, and a jacket are all you really need for layers.

4. DON'T Bring a Lot of Electronics

Of course, bring your phones, cameras etc. But I would recommend leaving the iPads and other expensive electronics at home or in the hotel room. I have just seen way too many things get lost, stolen, or broken while walking around the park and it’s better to just leave all that somewhere safe.

5. DON'T Bring Large Coolers

While you are permitted to bring soft-sided coolers, they must be 8.5” wide and 6” high, and 6” deep or smaller. Anything larger is not permitted inside the park.

6. DON'T Bring Glass Bottles

Glass containers of any kind are not allowed inside the park. Cans and plastic water bottles are welcomed.

FAQs about Universal Studios California

1. how many rides are at universal studios hollywood.

There are 13 exciting rides inside Universal Studios Hollywood. It is the smallest of the three Universal Parks, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t packed full of other thrilling sights and events to see and do.

2. How long does it take to visit Universal Studios Hollywood?

You will definitely need one full day to fully explore and walk around the park. It is highly recommended (and so worth it) to get the express pass so you don’t have to wait in any lines and you can spend more time exploring and less time waiting around.

3. Where do I stay when visiting the park?

There are plenty of wonderful and accommodating hotels right next to the park, and they work directly with the park. These are the top 5 best hotels to stay in while visiting Universal Studios Hollywood.

  • Hilton Universal City
  • The Garland
  • The Hollywood Roosevelt
  • BLVD Hotel and Suites
  • Sheraton Universal Hotel

4. Where is the best place to buy souvenirs?

Where is the best place to buy souvenirs?

There are lots of little knick-knack stores in each part of the park, and each one has a little something different. The Kwik E-Mart located in the Simpsons part of the park is everything Simpsons-related. Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods in the Harry Potter section is everything Harry Potter-related. My favorite souvenir shop is the Universal Studios Store on your way out of the park. This shop has a little bit of everything from all over the park.

5. How much does it cost in total to visit Universal Studios?

For general admission tickets, it is between $109 and $119 when tickets are purchased ahead of time. Express pass tickets cost an extra $189 per person. Expect to be paying that for each person above the age of 10. Hotel rooms cost, on average, around $150 a night and this doesn’t include the cost of food and other expenses.

6. What is the best time of year to visit Universal Studios Hollywood?

If you are trying to beat the crowds, the best time of year to visit the studios is sometime during the off-seasons. The first half of December, (around Christmas things start to pick back up) January, and February are the quieter times with fewer crowds. The weather is a bit chillier during these months, but it’s worth it if you want fewer people. You can also beat the crowds if you visit Mondays-Thursdays.

7. What is a MUST-see at Universal studios?

What is a MUST-see at Universal studios?

For different people, there are always going to be different things that are a must-see in the park. For me the best part of the park is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, being a huge Harry Potter fan myself. The roller coaster is so fun, and I love the shops and restaurants inside the Harry Potter world. Another super fun part of the park is Jurassic World. Jurassic World- The Ride is one of the best rides in the whole park and there is a great tiki hut after the ride where you can enjoy delicious cocktails. The best place to go with a small child is definitely Super Silly Fun Land.

8. How to get around with younger kids?

How to get around with younger kids?

Universal Studios is a great place for kids around 10 when they can start riding the rides and seeing all the characters. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not fun for the younger kids as well. They will still love seeing the characters, going to fun restaurants, and visiting places like Despicable Me world and Super Silly Fun Land, where there is fun for all members of the family. In parts of the park-like Jurassic World and Harry Potter World, Universal has set up a great ChildSwitch center. One adult can stay with the young child in the movie room (of Harry Potter world, inside Hogwarts) while the rest of the family goes on the rides. Then you can switch the family members when you are ready. Jurassic World has a dinosaur room set up for the young kids while the rest of the family goes on the Jurassic World ride. I have personally used this system before and the little ones love the rooms they have set up for them.

9. Do I have to bring my own stroller?

Maybe you’re traveling in a small car, or flying in and couldn’t bring your own stroller. Don’t worry! The park has great stroller rental services upon entering the park where you can rent single or double strollers. You can also rent wheelchairs here as well.

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Universal Studios Touring Plan | Tips + Complete 1-Day Itinerary

This post may contain affiliate links, view our disclosure policy .

Are you looking for the perfect 1-day Universal Studios touring plan to outsmart the crowds and get the most out of your experience?

Need a summary of Universal Express Pass tips, arrival and rope drop tips, as well as tips on how to plan your day in the park and minimize time spent standing in lines?

Our Universal Studios touring plan highlights all of these topics and offers a detailed, step-by-step morning and afternoon itinerary for spending 1-day at Universal Studios, Florida.

Be sure to stick around to the end for additional information and touring tips for the Harry Potter fans in your group!

*This post has been updated for 2023!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.  

Entrance to Universal Studios

Table of Contents

Universal Studios Orlando Resort

For those of you who are new to the Universal experience and are a bit confused like I was, Florida’s Universal Orlando Resort consists of:

  • Two theme parks: Universal Studios and  Islands of Adventure
  • A water theme park: Volcano Bay
  • A shopping, restaurant, and entertainment complex: Universal CityWalk Orlando
  • Six onsite Loews Hotels
  • An upcoming theme park,  Epic Universe , expected to open in early 2025

Its gigantic size is one of the biggest differences when comparing Universal Orlando vs. Universal Hollywood, as Universal Hollywood is much smaller.

Together, the Universal Orlando Resort covers 541 acres of land and welcomes over 11 million annual visitors from all around the world.

The following article is a sample 1-day touring plan for Florida’s Universal Studios theme park whose primary attraction is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.

The best Universal Studios itinerary involves utilizing this practical touring plan and customizing your final ride and attraction choices based on your family’s interests.

*Look for a new ride titled Illumination’s Villain-con Minion Blast opening at Universal Studios Orlando in the summer of 2023!

Due to increased concern over safety and sanitation, the Universal theme parks have implemented a host of new measures that may impact your experience. Be sure to check the Universal homepage to review current considerations for your visit.

Universal Studios Diagon Alley and our 1-day Universal Studios itinerary

Universal Studios Touring Plan

Touring plans make it easy for you to get the most out of an experience by outlining the order you should visit rides and attractions.

In fact, having a game plan before heading into the park is one of our 45 Universal Studios tips that you absolutely need to read before your first visit.

Both our Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure touring plans were created for those visiting the Universal theme parks for one day each.

This itinerary also assumes that you are entering the park right at the opening time and staying into the evening.

Finally, although we utilized this Universal Studios Orlando touring plan while staying on-site (which granted us automatic Universal Express Passes), it may still be used by visitors who do not have an Express Pass – we’ll show you how!

Universal Studios Florida Hours

Universal Studios Florida hours vary, by the day, by the month, and by the season.

It is very important to check the Theme Park Hours schedule for the day that you plan on visiting Universal so that you can plan your experience accordingly.

The Universal Studios theme park hour calendar also includes information on what days offer Early Park Admission, as well as lists temporary attraction closure information.

Early Park Admission is a free perk when you book a Universal vacation package, stay at a Universal resort hotel, or use your Preferred or Premier Annual Pass.

This perk allows you to enter a designated Universal theme park 1-hour before the scheduled opening (select days only).

Additional planning tip: Take note that Universal and CityWalk hours, as well as daily showtimes, are not released until approximately 1 calendar month in advance.

Universal Studios Crowd Calendar

Our Universal Studios Orlando one-day touring plan assumes moderate to high crowds at the park when lines are expected to be long.

This exact plan was utilized when crowds were rated 9/10.

No matter when you visit, however, this 1-Day Universal Orlando touring plan is optimized and ordered so that walking and your wait in lines are minimized.

Universal Studios touring plan Express Pass sign

Universal Studios Express Pass

There is no denying that when the Universal Studios crowd calendar predicts moderate to high crowds, the waiting in lines can become incredibly draining and time-consuming.

To help offset time spent standing in lines, Universal Studios allows you to add Universal Express access to your theme park admission.

Universal Express is an all-day pass that allows you to skip the regular lines – and use a special Express Pass line – at select Universal attractions.

If you are staying on-site at one of  Universal’s premier resort hotels , Universal Express Unlimited is free for every day of your visit. (Your hotel keycard serves as your Universal Express pass.)

If you are not staying on-site and wish to purchase Universal Express passes, the cost varies by day and expected crowds. So during peak times, prices will be higher.

Current prices can be found on the Universal Orlando Resort website.

Additional planning tip: Universal Express is separate from regular admission. In other words, you must purchase BOTH a Universal park base ticket along with an Express Pass add-on.

It’s easiest to buy Express passes online. You can also buy them at the entrance gates and throughout all three parks at dozens of locations.

Read here to find out the qualifying rides, exact wait times, and an explanation of whether or not we think Universal Express Pass is worth it !

Harry Potter World shops

Universal Studios Orlando: One Day Touring Plan

Prior to visiting Universal Orlando, be sure to download the official Universal Orlando Resort app on the  App Store  or the  Google Play Store .

The Universal Orlando Resort app provides:

  • An interactive park map
  • Wait times and wait time alerts you can set
  • Mobile food and drink ordering for select restaurants
  • A virtual wallet where you can purchase and store your tickets and Express Passes
  • Virtual Line experience selection queue

Universal Studios’ Virtual Line program allows you to use your phone app (or kiosks at the ride) to make a reservation for your entire travel party to visit various attractions.

The use of virtual lines and what rides offer it varies by the day.

To make a Virtual Line reservation, go to the Virtual Line Experience drop-down from the main menu on the Universal app and select “Virtual Line Venues”. Click on the ride and select the half-hour increment that is available in which you’d like to ride.

At your selected time, simply show your phone at the attraction and you will immediately be admitted into the ride/show.

Keep in mind that the Virtual Line reservation system only works if you are physically inside the park.

Also, you can only reserve two ride times at a time meaning that you may not add another attraction until a previous ride time has passed.

See the screenshot below for what it looks like to reserve Virtual Line times.

Universal Virtual Line app screenshot

Universal Orlando Resort has a parking and transportation structure consisting of two gigantic multi-story parking lots and a centralized transportation hub that allows you to access Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, CityWalk, and Volcano Bay.

The parking garage opens 2 hours before the official park opening to accommodate those eligible for Early Park Admission. ($27/day for regular self-parking, $60/day for prime parking.)

If you are driving to the resort and are not eligible for Early Park Admission, we recommend arriving at the Universal parking garage 60 minutes prior to the official opening.

It then takes approximately 15 minutes to walk from the parking garage to the park’s entrance turnstiles. This brings you to the entrance a perfect 45 minutes before the official opening.

Alternatively, Universal Orlando on-site resort transportation to the parks via water taxis and shuttles begins 2 hours before the official opening, or 1 hour before Early Park Admission.

Guests staying on-site during peak periods should catch the first ride of the morning in order to be the first into the Wizarding World during the early entry period.

Family photo at Universal Studios

Entering the Park

As of now, Universal Orlando does not require advanced reservations to get into any of their Orlando theme parks.

In addition, they are no longer limiting capacity as they had been during the pandemic.

With that said, we always recommend getting to the turnstiles 45 minutes prior to park opening (and 30 minutes before Early Park Admission), especially on projected busy days.

This act has long been known as ‘rope-drop’.

Rope drop involves getting to Universal Studios before it begins operating for the day so that you can be among the very first guests to enter and enjoy the attractions.

Rope dropping is the single most important key to an efficient touring plan in order to avoid long lines. First thing in the morning, there are no lines and fewer people.

The same four rides you experience in 1 hour upon rope dropping can take as long as 3 hours after 10:30 AM.

Additional planning tip: On days when Universal does not offer Early Park Admission, the gates typically open 30 minutes before the advertised opening.

Guests are restricted to the front of the park where Despicable Me Minion Mayhem often opens to all guests 10–15 minutes before the official opening.

Our recommended Universal Studios arrival times (during peak periods) with Early Park Admission:

  • 6:00-6:15 AM: Leave the onsite hotel or arrive at Universal parking garage
  • 6:30 AM: Arrive at park turnstiles
  • 7:00 AM: Early Park Admission entry – head straight to Diagon Alley
  • 8:00 AM: Regular park opening time

Our recommended Universal Studios arrival times (during peak periods) without Early Park Admission:

  • 7:00 AM: Leave the onsite hotel or arrive at Universal parking garage
  • 7:15 AM: Arrive at park turnstiles
  • 7:45 AM: Guests typically let into the front of the park to ride Despicable Me Minon Mayhem
  • 8:00 AM: Park opening time

Additional planning tip: Due to a strict bag and locker policy and the fact that personal belongings are not allowed on many of the rides, be sure to review what to bring to Universal Studios in your day bag as you prepare for your visit.

Likewise, be sure to have an understanding of the Universal Orlando locker system as you will need to store your belongings while riding most rides.

Diagon Alley fire breathing dragon

Universal Studios Touring Plan: Morning

Upon arriving at the park, use your Universal app to make Virtual Line reservations.

Once the park opens, walk directly to the Harry Potter area without stopping for anything.

In other words, if you want to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, you must arrive before everyone else does.

There’s no other way.

When you arrive at Diagon Alley, take it all in!

Browse the shops and enjoy the atmosphere of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

This is a great time to buy a wand from Ollivander’s and let the kids cast spells without long waits or crowds.

When spending 1-day at Universal Studios, be sure to visit Olivander's Wand Shop

Morning Itinerary

Similar to experiencing the best rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure , we recommend visiting the top rides at Universal Studios immediately upon park opening.

The following attractions typically experience the longest wait times if not done right away.

Likewise, visit these attractions in this exact order to decrease time spent zig-zagging around the park.

*Rides with (EP) listed after their names denote that the ride qualifies for Express Pass.

1. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (EP). While in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, be sure to go to:

  • Ollivander’s Wand Shop
  • Gringott’s Money Exchange
  • Knight’s Bus

Then, back-track to the front of the park and do these rides:

2. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (EP)

3. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (EP)

4. Transformers: The Ride 3D (EP)

5. Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (EP)

6. Revenge of the Mummy (EP)

7. Fast & Furious: Supercharged (EP)

Additional planning tip: This plan does not assume you’re using child swap, which allows parents to swap supervising a child who does not meet a height requirement without waiting in line twice.

If you do use child swap, your day will move more slowly as you have to wait for two people to ride each ride.

Ride The Simpsons Ride as part of your Universal Studios touring plan

Universal Studios Touring Plan: Afternoon

I recommend saving Universal shows for the afternoon and evening.

This includes the Bourne Stuntacular, Horror and Make-up Show, Shrek 4-D, Animal Actors on Location, and Fear Factor Live.

Daily showtimes vary and can be found on the app. Adapt your afternoon itinerary according to what showtimes are available.

1. Shrek 4-D (45 min.); Separate theater for those with Express Pass.

2. The Bourne Stuntacular (26 min); Despite a potentially long wait/line, don’t miss this one!

3. Horror & Make-up Show (25 min.)

4. E.T. Adventure (EP)

5. Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster (EP)

6. Animal Actors on Location (20 min.)

7. The Simpsons Ride (EP). While in the queue, be on the lookout for an appearance by an animated Doc Brown.

8. Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl (EP)

9. Men in Black: Alien Attack (EP).

10. Fear Factor Live (20 min.)

11. Browse the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley again.

Next, ride the Hogwart’s Express (EP) if you have a park-to-park pass.

11. Watch Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration or other seasonal evening entertainment; these have scheduled showtimes so be sure to check the Universal app.

Additional planning tip: If you love theme parks, Walt Disney World is only 9 miles away from Universal Orlando! Check out our 7-day Orlando itinerary that includes both a Universal and a Disney World vacation!

Universal Studios Butterbeer

Universal Studios Dining

Another one of the top tips for visiting Universal Studios is to skip the typical hot dogs and chicken tenders in order to indulge in the unique dining options that are exclusive to Universal Studios.

In fact, the best itinerary for Universal Studios Orlando includes eating at a themed restaurant, such as the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley.

Its traditional British food and perfectly Harry Potter pub-themed atmosphere make for an experience that you simply cannot find anywhere else.

Also, be sure to try a Butterbeer!

This iconic non-alcoholic drink, which comes in hot, cold, and frozen varieties, is sold everywhere inside the Harry Potter areas of the parks.

In addition, be sure to check out the best restaurants in Citywalk for another incredibly unique experience.

Additional planning tip: Keep in mind that you can make online reservations ahead of time for full-service restaurants and Universal CityWalk in order to avoid the lines during busy seasons.

Ride Hogwart's Express as part of your Universal Studios touring plan

If You Want More Harry Potter Fun

If you’re a Potterhead you will absolutely not be disappointed by the immersive theming of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter found throughout Universal Orlando.

Their amazing attention to detail is what makes a trip to Universal Orlando Resort a must-do vacation destination for most Harry Potter Fans.

If you’re a huge fan, you’ll also want to add additional time ( specifically related to Harry Potter ) to your Universal Studios touring plan in order to enjoy it to the fullest.

Next, be sure to purchase a Park-to-Park Ticket for Universal Orlando that will serve as your ticket to ride Hogwart’s Express.

In other words, a Park-to-Park Ticket is required in order to ride Hogwart’s Express, and you can’t ride it without one.

(In case you don’t know, Hogwart’s Express is an actual train that travels between Universal Studios and Island of Adventure, allowing you to visit both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in one day.)

Additional planning tip: Universal’s Harry Potter experience includes Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure ( home to Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure – a fan favorite! ).

You’ll find the famous Ollivander’s Wand shop in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.

Here, you can purchase both standard and interactive wizard wands as well as participate in a wand-fitting demonstration. 

Through a sensor in the tip of the interactive wands, wanna-be wizards and witches can perform 25 spells through both Diagon Alley  and  Hogsmeade.

This requires being on the lookout for gold medallions along the walkways signaling you when to cast spells.

Potterheads can look forward to lighting the chandelier in the window at Flimflam’s Lantern or to repairing a suit of armor at the blacksmith’s with a simple wave of their wand.

*Click here for our exclusive FREE Family Vacation Packing List and BONUS Theme Park Bag Packing List to complement your Universal vacation!

Family Vacation Packing list

I am confident that you’re now off to a great start in planning your day at Universal Studios! What was the most helpful part of the Universal Studios touring plan? Jen

If you liked reading our Universal Studios touring plan, continue planning your Universal Orlando vacation here:

Universal Orlando Touring Plans:

  • Islands of Adventure Touring Plan: Complete 1-Day Itinerary

Universal Orlando Tips:

  • 45 Tips for your First-Time Visit to Universal Orlando
  • What to Bring to Universal Studios (+Day Bag Tips)
  • 9 Big Differences Between Disney World and Universal Studios
  • Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Orlando: 9 Reasons to Stay
  • A Complete Guide to Understanding the Lockers at Universal Orlando
  • 7 Best Restaurants in Universal Orlando Citywalk

Universal Orlando Rides:

  • Top 7 Best Rides at Islands of Adventure
  • Top 7 Best Rides at Universal Studios Florida
  • Is Universal Express Pass Worth It? A Detailed Look!

* Before leaving, be sure to check our  Travel Resources Page  to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

"If you like it, Pin it!" quote

Jen Brommer is a family travel expert. She has been featured as an authority on several notable travel websites and is a member of the Family Travel Association (FTA), Midwest Travel Network, and TravMedia global media network.

A prominent content creator and influencer on Instagram, Jen has over 150K unique monthly blog readers from countries all over the world. She has spent the last 16 years planning fun, and hassle-free family vacations for her family of 5.

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We have never been to Universal Studios bt have been to Disney 20+ times. This is the perfect itinerary to dip our toes in!

You totally have to try Universal! We love Disney too…but now that the kids are older, they prefer Universal hands-down 🙂

Loads of very useful information here in this post. Last time we traveled to Orlando we only made it to the Disney parks and I’m thinking it would probably be a good idea to go back and visit Universal Studios. Thanks for sharing all these insights!

Yes, we started with Disney too! As the kids have gotten a little older, they absolutely LOVE Universal, although I haven’t had the heart to ask them which they like better 😉

Awesome tips and perfect itinerary, can’t wait to actually get out there and experience Universal again! thanks for the travel inspiration.

You’re welcome! It is definitely a place that we would love to return to year-after-year!

I dont know how this is possible, BUT I have never been to Universal Studios! Its very high on my to do list. I gotta get my kids to read Harry Potter first.

What?!?! I can’t believe that you haven’t been…but I am so happy that now you have a little info for when you do go! Yay! If the kids never get around to reading Harry Potter, no worries 🙂 It is so much more than that!!

You’re not going to believe this but I haven’t been to Universal Studios in 20 years! We really need to take the kids and this is the perfect one day touring guide!! So much detail- thank you Jen!!

Yay! You’re welcome! It’s really how amazing it all is! …It’s too bad that these awesome American theme parks have to be so expensive though. I feel like we’d go there way more if they were more affordable 🙂

The Universal studio is on my ‘must do’ and ‘must see’ places. I’ll like to compare it with Motiongate in Dubai. I’ll like to see Shrek in 4d. Thanks for a complete guide.

You’re welcome! It really is a truly amazing place! I was glad that we waited until our kids were a bit older to go there, for the rollercoasters and thrill rides are not-to-miss!

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Guide to the Holidays at Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood

Holiday milkshake from Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at CityWalk.

There’s something so special about the holidays in SoCal. Between the palm trees strung up in twinkle lights, the Angelenos donning parkas when it’s 60 degrees out, and the visions of Santa on a surfboard, no place does the holidays quite like LA. And Universal Studios Hollywood gets especially festive for the holiday season — check out our Guide to the Holidays at Universal Studios Hollywood for proof of merriment. 

And Universal CityWalk does, too! At CityWalk, all that California holiday charm gets packed into one place. With seasonal drinks, treats, decor and live entertainment, CityWalk is the ultimate place to eat, drink and be merry during the holiday season. 

Whether you’re a local Californian or just visiting the City of Angels, no holiday season in LA is complete without a trip to CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood. Here’s what you can expect to find at CityWalk throughout the holiday season.


Christmas tree outside Universal Cinema at CityWalk.

Get your cameras out, because CityWalk gets dressed to the nines over the holidays. Stop to admire the gigantic wreaths welcoming you to the promenade and the festive garlands decking the walkway. And you certainly can’t miss the 40-foot Christmas tree strung up in 200,000 LED lights — it’s positioned right outside the Universal Cinema . If this twinkling centerpiece doesn’t get you excited for Santa’s arrival, we don’t know what will. 

King Kong sign hanging off a building wearing a Santa hat at Universal CityWalk in Hollywood.

And don’t forget to look up! There are so many great decor details during this time of year. My personal favorite is the red Santa hat topping King Kong’s noggin, plus the mistletoe in his hand. You can catch him hanging off of IT’SUGAR , right across from Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. And just beyond King Kong is the dancing water fountain, which will be lit up in a red and green holiday light show.


Holiday bread pudding from NBC Sports Grill and Bar.

If you’re not having dessert for every meal from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, I’m not sure what, exactly, it is you think you’re doing. 

First things first: beeline for The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen for a milkshake. It always feels like a special occasion here, with an irresistible lineup of heaping, decadent milkshakes to choose from. Get your hands on the appropriately-named Tis the Season Milkshake. This perfectly over-the-top dessert is made with vanilla ice cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, caramel, whipped topping, holiday sprinkles, buttercream frosting, white chocolate, and topped with a gingerbread cookie. It’s basically every Christmas flavor packed into one delicious jar. Get yours at the dessert foundry so you can take it to-go and keep on strolling CityWalk.

Voodoo Doughnut always delivers with the fun seasonal pastries, and this holiday is no exception. Throughout the month of December, the to-go eatery is serving up doughnuts as delicious as they are Instagrammable. There’s the Peppermint Mocha doughnut — covered in chocolate frosting and dipped in hot chocolate powder, covered in crushed peppermint and a chocolate-peppermint drizzle. The Gingerbread donut is dipped in maple and covered in vanilla frosting, and the Holiday Sprinkle Cake doughnut is slathered in vanilla frosting and topped with holiday sprinkles. There just might be additional items for sale during the month, too —keep your eyes peeled, doughnut-heads. 

If you’re looking for a sit-down dessert, head to the NBC Sports Grill & Bar for the Cinnamon Bread Pudding, topped with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce. It comes out piping hot, making it the perfect way to warm up on a chilly December evening. 

Holiday stromboli from VIVO at CityWalk.

The holidays are all about the sweets, but we love a special, savory feast, too. At VIVO , The Stromboli Boat — a savory baked turnover stuffed with three Italian cheeses, bell pepper, zucchini, and cherry tomato — is a delicious, decadent Yuletide treat. They also serve a delicious Minestrone Soup to warm you up during the chilly winter months.

Holiday cocktails from various locations at CityWalk.

Want to celebrate with a festive cocktail? Look no further than Universal CityWalk. Several restaurants along the strip have delicious holiday beverages available throughout November and December. 

The holidays are a great time to do the most, and nothing says “extra” quite like a martini. Luckily, CityWalk has a jolly lineup of limited-time martinis for you. Stay classy over at VIVO with a Winter Martini (vodka, Chambord, Luxardo cherry syrup) or an Apple Cheer Martini (Vodka, apple liqueur, simple syrup, lemon juice). Or, if subtlety isn’t your style, toast the holidays at NBC Sports Grill & Bar with the Peppermint Martini — that’s made with vodka, peppermint schnapps, crushed peppermint, simple syrup, and grenadine. ‘Tis the season, right? 

Of course, you can always escape the chilly weather and flee to the tropics. If that’s your winter mood, head to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville for a Co-Co Colada, which is made with mango rum, vanilla rum, pineapple juice, and coconut milk. Or, head to Antojitos Cocina Mexicana . Where you’ll find Yuletide spins on classic Mexican cocktails: the Apple Cider Margarita (El Charro Reposado tequila, apple juice, lime juice, honey and agave) and the Chestnut Horchata (rum, kahlua, horchata, cinnamon, hazelnut whipped topping). You also can’t go wrong with Antojitos’ delicious Mistletoe Mule (vodka, ginger beer, cranberry juice, rosemary simple syrup, lime juice). 

Or maybe you’d like to just keep it classic. If that’s you, grab a Hot Apple Cider over at VIVO . It comes in non-alcoholic and alcoholic forms — the boozy version includes spiced pear liqueur and rum.


Holiday decor at CityWalk Hollywood.

The holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without the music, right? That’s why CityWalk is putting all kinds of musical performers onstage throughout November and December. Whether you’re visiting with friends, family or a date, tap your toes to all the holiday classics at CityWalk this season. This year’s musical offerings include:

  • Local DJs spinning their favorite festive tracks at CityWalk all throughout the holiday season, starting the day after Thanksgiving. (November 24, December 1, 8, 15, 6-9pm; November 25, 7-10pm)
  • A bilingual holiday show from LA MERA , a woman-fronted, Caribbean salsa/cumbia project. (December 2, 7-10pm) 
  • A swingin’ good time from Nat and her Tinsel Tifers Holiday Swing, who will get you on your feet with upbeat jazz tunes from the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.  (December 9, 7-10pm)
  • Smooth Yuletide tunes from singer-songwriter-saxaphonist — now that’s what I call a triple threat! — Sean Kellz . (December 16, 7-10pm)
  • Our roaming bevy of Holiday Carolers , singing a capella holiday tunes throughout the promenade. (December 19, 20, 21; 7-9pm)

That’s what CityWalk has to offer over this holiday season! What are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below. 

Please note that menus and shows are subject to change throughout the season. 

Must be 21 years and older with valid photo identification to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. Drink responsibly.

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Senior Editor, Universal Studios Hollywood. Lisa sun, Smithers rising, Disco Stu moon.

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Best way to plan Disneyland, Seaworld, Universal - Los Angeles Forum

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planning trip to universal studios california


So how many times do you want to pack/un-pack?

How many days do you plan to stay at the Disneyland Resort, the Southern California CityPass is a discounted bundle of tickets, 3 days at the DLR, a day at Universal and a day at SeaWorld.


I would avoid LAX, and use Long Beach (LGB) if flying jetBlue, or John Wayne (Orange County/Santa AnaSNA) if flying Southwest.

As for what else to do, what are you interests? The Anaheim area has Knott's Berry Farm and Knott's Soak City, two food family Dinner Theaters, museums and much more.


San Diego has much more than SeaWorld, maybe take a day to drive the coastal route between the areas.



In the LA County area, the Hollywood area is popular with tourists.



So sit down and plan an itinerary, and decide how many nights do you want to spend in each area, and if you prefer to do day trips or change hotels/motels .

planning trip to universal studios california

Some of your confusion is coming from the fact that you're lumping three different places ( Los Angeles , Anaheim /Orange County and San Diego) into one post. This would be like me asking you how best to see New York City, New Jersey and Amish Country in Pennsylvania.

Universal is in Los Angeles County and near " Hollywood " (the Hollywood & HIghland area is easily reachable by subway from Universal). Universal has hotels, is popular, etc. Do you intend to see Hollywood as well? Universal Studios may or may not be a whole day experience for you (it sure can be). Another half day for Hollywood maybe. That's the northern-most part of your trip.

Then, if you were to leave from Universal, it's about 1 hour to Disneyland in moderate traffic - could be a little more or less. Disneyland has two main theme parks, a lot of people would say you need two days for the parks (I would, I'm a Disney Lover). So three nights in Anaheim would accomplish that plus give you some time to relax.

I know nothing about Seaworld , except that some people like seeing this type of show and it is a main feature in San Diego, along with the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park (can't recall what it's called now).

From Anaheim to San Diego shouldn't be more than 2 hours drive via the 5. You could leave early, see Seaworld , spend one night in San DIego, see a bit more if it the next day and then stay in Santa Monica or one of the beach towns closer to the airport before your flight out. Or book into LAX and out of San Diego, if not prohibitively expensive. Going in and out of San Diego makes even less sense to me.

Aside from Disneyland, btw, there is also Knotts Berry Farm nearby, and Santa Monica has an amusement pier.

If you used Anaheim as your base the entire time, the trip from LAX to Anaheim shouldn't be more than 1.5 hours each way in moderate traffic. If you stayed in an Orange County beach town, it shouldn't be more than 1-1.5 hours to LAX, either (if you choose wisely).

You really need to decide how many days you plan to spend at each location. As mentioned above, you're concentrating on three different counties (from north to south):

2. The second county that you'll be visiting is Orange County where Anaheim (Disneyland) is. The drive between most neighborhoods in the city of Los Angeles and Anaheim is 45 to 60 minutes (more, during 'rush hour'), each way.

3. The third county you're visiting is San Diego County -- home to the CITY of San Diego where Sea World is. The drive between Anaheim and SD is about 90 minutes (more with traffic).

A typical visit to the CITY OF LOS ANGLES takes 3 full days. I invite you to learn about our wonderful city by clicking on the 'what to do' links in the TOP QUESTIONS BOX at the right side of this page and clicking on 'what to do' in the green horizontal bar at the top of the page. (You'll need something other than a phone to see these links).

Once you set aside 3 days for the city of L.A., that leaves you with 4 days left. My personal preference re: Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure is that 2 days for the two parks is plenty (you may feel otherwise). With 3 days in L.A. and 2 days at the Disney Parks, that leaves 2 days left -- one for San Diego/Sea World and one for 'the beach' -- I would visit a San DIego Beach since you'll be in San Diego already. So, my suggestion is:

1. 3 days in the city of L.A. and neighboring municipalities like Beverly Hills, Universal City, Burbank, Santa Monica, etc

2. 2 days at the Disney Resort

3. 2 days in San Diego (one of those days to be a 'beach day').

Of course, included in this itinerary is driving between the cities/counties and checking in and out of hotels a number of times. It's your decisionwhether you want to stay in Anaheim, the whole time (and do a lot of back and forth driving) or staying in multiple hotels.

If you plan to spend more time at the Disney Resort, then that puts the squeeze on your attractions. You could certainly spend 2 days in L.A. instead of 3 but you'd be rushed. (You could drop Universal but you probably wouldn't want to).

Or, you could drop San Diego. Or you could add a day or two to your vacation but as it stands now, it seems like a lot to so in 7 days.

I would go to LA first. Hollywood or the area around The Grove is a good place to look for lodging. You can take the red line to Universal Studios if you stay in Hollywood. Use your rental car the second day to visit other Los Angeles area attractions. Then head to San Diego , but make a day of the trip to see Orange County beaches.

Stop at Huntington Beach, Balboa, Laguna Beach along the way. Spend your time in SD, then drive to Anaheim for Disneyland . The drive back to LAX is straightforward and roughly 40 minutes via I-105 (outside of rush hour).

I don't know if your companions have any interest in museums, but the Page Museum and Tarpits in LA (next door to LACMA, the LA Contemporary Museum of Art) is really a treat - not convenient to Universal or Disney, but right in LA. Also, you can see the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center , which really is very cool.

There is so much to see and do, that you might find it hard to fit in LA and SD unless you have already narrowed it down to these particular attractions, or you fly open-jaw so you don't have to drive back up to LA.

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity.

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planning trip to universal studios california

Can you do Universal Studios California in one day?


FAQs about visiting Universal Studios California in one day:

1. what are the must-visit attractions at universal studios california, 2. can i experience all the major rides and shows in one day, 3. are express passes worth it for a one-day visit, 4. what dining options are available at the park, 5. can i bring my own food and drinks into the park, 6. is it better to visit on weekdays or weekends, 7. are there any height or age restrictions for the rides, 8. are there any shows or events that are exclusive to the park, 9. can i purchase tickets in advance, 10. is it possible to upgrade my ticket to a multi-day pass, 11. what other attractions are nearby, 12. is there parking available at the park.

Universal Studios California is a popular tourist destination that offers a myriad of exciting attractions for visitors of all ages. But can you truly experience everything this theme park has to offer in just one day? The answer is both yes and no, as it ultimately depends on your personal preferences and time management skills.

With proper planning and a well-thought-out itinerary, it is possible to see the major highlights and ride the most popular attractions within a single day. However, keep in mind that Universal Studios California is a massive park with a wide range of experiences to offer. To truly immerse yourself in the magic and make the most of your visit, it is recommended to allocate at least two days for exploring the park thoroughly.

To make the most of your one-day visit, prioritize the attractions and shows that interest you the most. Research the park’s layout and create a rough schedule to ensure you don’t miss out on any must-see experiences. Start your day early to maximize your time and beat the crowds. Consider purchasing an express pass, which allows you to skip the regular lines and enjoy more rides and shows during your visit.

When visiting Universal Studios California, some of the must-visit attractions include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic World—The Ride, Transformers: The Ride 3D, and the Studio Tour. These attractions offer unique experiences and are highly popular among visitors.

While it may be challenging to experience all the major rides and shows in a single day, with proper planning and time management, you can certainly enjoy a significant number of them. Prioritize the attractions that interest you the most and make a rough itinerary to ensure you cover as much ground as possible.

If you are visiting Universal Studios California for just one day and want to make the most of your time, purchasing an express pass can be a worthwhile investment. This pass allows you to skip the regular lines for select rides and shows, ensuring that you experience more during your visit.

Universal Studios California offers a wide range of dining options, catering to various tastes and preferences. From quick-service restaurants to themed eateries, there is something for everyone. Be sure to try some of the park’s signature dishes and snacks for a complete culinary experience.

While outside food and drinks are generally not allowed inside the park, there are designated picnic areas where you can enjoy your own snacks and meals. However, keep in mind that Universal Studios California has a wide array of dining options, and trying the park’s food offerings can add to the overall experience.

Weekdays tend to be less crowded compared to weekends at Universal Studios California. If possible, plan your visit on a weekday to enjoy shorter lines and fewer crowds. However, keep in mind that the park can still be busy on weekdays during holiday periods or peak tourist seasons.

Yes, some of the rides at Universal Studios California have height and age restrictions for safety reasons. Make sure to check the official website or consult the park’s guidelines to ensure that all members of your group can partake in the desired attractions.

Yes, Universal Studios California hosts exclusive shows and events throughout the year. These include seasonal celebrations, live performances, and special screenings. Check the park’s schedule and plan your visit accordingly to catch any exclusive shows or events.

Yes, it is highly recommended to purchase your tickets in advance to avoid long queues at the park’s entrance. You can conveniently buy tickets online through the official website or authorized ticket sellers.

Yes, if you find yourself wanting more time at Universal Studios California during your visit, it is often possible to upgrade your ticket to a multi-day pass. Inquire at the guest services or ticket booths for information on ticket upgrades.

Universal Studios California is located in a vibrant area close to many other popular attractions. Some nearby attractions include the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Griffith Observatory, and Universal CityWalk. Consider extending your visit to explore these additional attractions as well.

Yes, Universal Studios California offers parking facilities for visitors. However, parking fees may apply, so it’s advisable to check the park’s website for the latest parking information and rates.

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How Much Does Universal Studios Cost? Universal Orlando Budget (2024)

Posted: November 18, 2023 | Last updated: November 18, 2023

Theme park vacations are expensive. I’ve often remarked that we can spend a week in Europe for less than a week at Walt Disney World . In fact, my recent one-day ticket to Disneyland cost more than my airline ticket from Boston to Los Angeles. So while every family aspires to take a theme park trip, you really need to know what to expect and plan your budget accordingly.

If you are planning a trip to Universal Orlando Resort and are wondering how much a trip to Universal Studios costs… I’ve got you covered with this budget breakdown. While it is easy to research the cost of tickets and hotels (although both can vary wildly), it is also important to build money into your Universal Orlando vacation budget that covers all those other expenses that can make a theme park trip break the bank.

Even though each trip we take has a budget, we aren’t typically what you might call “budget travelers.” We live in that zone between budget and luxury and depending on the trip, we migrate closer to one end of the spectrum or the other.

When we first visited Universal Orlando during a Thanksgiving vacation, the cost of our short little trip really surprised me. When we added everything up, we took in a big gulp of reality. Even a quick two-day trip to Universal Studios with our small family of three can be exorbitantly expensive.

Since then, we have returned again and again (because we are major Harry Potter fans), and each time we do, I try to update this post with the latest numbers to help you in your budget planning. Just keep in mind though that prices are constantly changing and that you should use this as a guideline only and always pad the budget with a little wiggle room.

How Much Does a Trip to Universal Studios Cost?

For anyone contemplating a trip to Universal Orlando (Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, or Volcano Bay), I have provided a Universal Orlando trip budget to help in your planning. But keep reading until the end because I am going to give you some tips on how you can save on your trip!

Now, let’s break down airfare, hotel stay, ticket costs, and add-ons like Express Passes, food, souvenirs, and extras. To be consistent, I’m going to use pricing that I found for a three-day, mid-week visit in April during a possible spring break week, which is a popular time for families.

I’ve also based the pricing on a family of four, traveling from Boston, with two kids under 12 sharing one room. If your travel companions are different, just adjust accordingly as I’ve also provided the per-person pricing.

Please use this as a general guide and check websites and hotels for current pricing.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. All opinions are my own.

One of the nice things about traveling to Orlando is that many of the budget airlines offer flights to Orlando, offering ways to save (just pay attention to all the added fees!) For our mid-week, mid-April example, I priced out tickets from Monday-Friday, giving three whole days to enjoy the Universal Orlando theme parks.

The cheapest option was on Spirit Airlines, but I made sure to pick the option where you can choose your seat (to ensure families are seated together) and included a checked bag (which is actually cheaper than a carry-on bag option.) The price was $407 round trip per seat.

When booking airfare, I often use either Hopper to see all the options and the cheapest dates to travel. If I have flexibility on travel dates, I’m also a member of the Dollar Flight Club and Going , which provide airfare sales alerts from my preferred airports.

Expect to pay between $350-800 per person for your flights, with prices being even higher during peak holiday weeks or prime weekends.

Total Airfare Cost: $407 per person x 4 = $1,628

If you are visiting Universal Orlando at a busy time, you may appreciate the perks of staying on property including the free transportation and early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (see all my tips for visiting Harry Potter world.)

We spent two nights in a Tower Family Suite at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort (see my Cabana Bay Beach Resort review ), which is one of the value resorts at Universal Orlando. For the dates of this example, that same room would cost $419 per night. Standard two-queen rooms are also available for only $335 per night.

Keep in mind that staying at the Universal Orlando value resorts does not include free Express Passes (read my Universal Orlando tips post to see if you should get these). To receive free Express Passes with your stay, you need to stay at one of the Premier hotels such as the Loews Royal Pacific. A standard two-queen room at the Loews Royal Pacific for the same dates costs $845 per night (but includes the Universal Express Unlimited Passes for four people.) Stay tuned below to see which option you should pick.

Keep in mind that there are so many other hotel options if you are looking to save by staying off-property:

Total Hotel Cost: $1,206 (+ taxes and fees for 4 nights in a standard two-queen room at Cabana Bay Beach Resort)

When it comes to purchasing tickets, you really need to consider a few questions first:

How many days do you want to spend in the parks? Ticket prices vary based on how many days you are purchasing. You can do both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in one day if you purchase a park-to-park ticket that allows you to park hop. If you are planning to do these parks in just one day, I’d HIGHLY recommend getting the Universal Express Unlimited Pass. Keep in mind that the more days you stay, the cheaper per day the ticket gets.

Do you want to visit Universal’s Volcano Bay water park or just the Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure theme parks?

What time of year are you visiting? Do you expect it to be ultra-crowded? (Crowd calendars and even ticket pricing will give you some indication of this.) Of course, the best time to visit from a budget perspective is during the off-seasons.

How much do you dislike standing in lines? Because if you are like me and hate waiting for rides with a long wait time, you may want to invest in the Universal Express Unlimited Passes.

For this example, I’m going to look at a two-day, park-to-park ticket options, plus one-day Universal Volcano Bay tickets. Keep in mind that Universal Orlando tickets vary based on date and demand during peak times so there is no one set ticket price for Universal Studios.

There are many other options to consider and sometimes, there are special promotional offers on multi-day tickets that include extra days for free. But this option will give you one day at Volcano Bay and two days to hop from Universal Studios to Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

The cost for two adults and two children for this type of ticket was $1,595.96 (without Unlimited Express Passes.) Around $400 per person for the three park access Universal tickets. There are also discounts for Florida residents and annual passes tp help you save.

When it comes to Universal Express Passes, you can get the standard pass, which lets you skip the line once per included ride, or the Universal Express Unlimited Pass, which lets you skip the line multiple times per included ride (which includes most popular rides.) There is generally about a $30 difference between these two options. Adding Universal Express Unlimited Passes for all four family members for the dates selected added an additional $579.96.

Once you price out the cost of your Universal Express Unlimited Passes, you can decide if it is worth it to spend on the more expensive hotel instead. For this example, the Loews Royal Pacific was $724 per night or $2896 for four nights. However, if you stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort for $274 per night for four nights, that would cost you $1096. You could add on the Universal Orlando Express passes purchased separately with your theme park tickets and still save money if you were only going to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for one day. However, if you want to park hop on all three days, then you need to do the math and see what choice you want to make for your ticket purchase.

Total Ticket Price: $2,317.38 (3-Park – 3-Day Park-to-Park Promotional Ticket with Universal Express Unlimited Passes)

Food is an area where it is easy to overspend at Universal Orlando because when you are having so much fun in the parks, you really don’t want to head back to your hotel room to whip up a cheap lunch or walk further to a budget restaurant. Plus, when you walk out of the parks, there are so many amazing food options in Universal CityWalk.

I would suggest stocking up on some snacks or picking up something small to start your day, followed by lunch in the park, and dinner in one of CityWalk’s many restaurants (make reservations in advance or eat at off hours to avoid lines.) Don’t forget to account for things like bottles of water (tip: bring your own refillable water bottle!), bottomless Coca-Cola Freestyle drink cups, snacks, and Butterbeer!

For dinner, expect entrees to start at about $20 for adults and $9 for kids’ meals, plus drinks. Lunch is not too different, depending on whether you select quick service or casual dining. For example, fish and chips at the Leaky Cauldron is $17.99 and kids’ meals are $7.49. An ice cream cone at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour will cost $6.99. A Butterbeer is $8.49 and Pumpkin Juice is $4.99.

If you are spending three days in the park, expect to budget for four dinners, three to five lunches (depending on your flight times), and three to four breakfasts.

Total Food Cost: $600

Extras: Photos, Locker rentals & people dryers

For most of the rides at Universal, there are free lockers available to store your loose items for the duration of the ride. However, if you want longer-term storage, or storage for wet rides that don’t offer lockers, there are also pay lockers around. If you are visiting Volcano Bay, you may want to secure a locker right away to keep your belongings safe. These are $9-16 per day.

If you are visiting when it is chilly, there are also people dryers to dry off quickly after water rides. Depending on when you are visiting and how much you are carrying, expect to pay about $10-15 on these extras per day.

Many visitors will also want to purchase the My Universal Photo Package for $69.99.

Total Extras: $135


If you are staying on the property, you really don’t need to rent a car. You can take an Uber from the airport and then use the resort shuttles to get to CityWalk and the parks (or many of the Universal Orlando hotels are within walking distance or a boat ride to the parks and CityWalk.) An Uber will cost somewhere between $32-64 (you may want to order an Uber XL for a family.)

Total transportation cost: $150

Obviously, souvenirs are optional but with specialty gift shops at the exit to many rides, Universal does a good job marketing to fans and the FOMO of not getting any souvenirs is real when you see gear everywhere! Expect to pay $60+ for sweatshirts, $63+ for an interactive wand, $35+ for plushies, $30+ for t-shirts, and then additional for things like chocolate frogs, postcards to mail from Hogsmeade, etc.

For us, the souvenirs we bought replaced our holiday gift giving so we splurged a bit and spent $347.75.See my post on the best Harry Potter Souvenirs at Universal Orlando. Even if you don’t overspend on souvenirs, it will take real restraint to walk out of there without buying anything, so build it into your budget before the kids start begging.

Total souvenir cost: $170

Total Universal Orlando TRip Cost

So the grand total for four people to fly to Orlando and spend three days and four nights, with two days at the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks and one day at Volcano Bay, including flights, hotel, tickets, Universal Express Unlimited Passes, extras, food, souvenirs, and transportation is… $6,157 – $6,731.78.

WOW!! I have DEFINITELY spent a week in Europe for less than that when we found great flight deals and stayed in Airbnbs. A Universal trip is a lot to bite off, not going to lie. I’m not a huge theme park lover but I do enjoy visiting now and then, I just know I need to really set aside the right amount in my budget.

Obviously, there are tons of ways to cut costs, like staying off-property and skipping the Universal Express Unlimited passes (those are really outrageous!) But when you don’t visit very often, sometimes you want to go big or go home. The bottom line is — theme parks are expensive.

I hope this was helpful for your own trip planning! You can also find my budget guides for Italy , Iceland , Ireland , London , and Paris .) Also, get a sense of the average family vacation costs.

Now let me tell you how you can save some money on your trip…

Money Saving Tips for Universal Orlando

  • Buy tickets online in advance: Universal Orlando offers discounts on tickets purchased in advance online. Moreover, the park sometimes offers additional promotions on its official website, so keep an eye out for those.
  • Consider multi-day tickets: If you plan to spend more than one day at the park, consider purchasing a multi-day ticket, as it can save you money in the long run.
  • Look for package deals: Universal Orlando offers vacation packages that include hotel accommodations, park tickets, and other benefits. These packages can often save you money compared to purchasing each element separately.
  • Look for third-party vendors: Get discounted theme park tickets from Undercover Tourist  or Getaway Today .
  • Stay at a hotel with a kitchenette and prepare some meals in the room: The Cabana Bay Beach Resort’s family suites are good for this.
  • Bring your own food and drinks: Food and drinks at theme parks can be very expensive. Consider stocking up on snacks and bringing them into the park to save money (note: no coolers are allowed.)
  • Use refillable cups: If you do purchase drinks at the park, consider investing in a refillable cup, which can save you money on refills throughout the day.
  • Bring your own ponchos: Rain ponchos are available for purchase at Universal Orlando, but they are often overpriced. Bring your own ponchos to save money.
  • Visit during the off-season: Visiting the park during the off-season, which is typically from September to May (excluding holidays), can save you money on tickets and hotel accommodations.
  • Stay off-site if you really want to save (but you’ll miss out on the benefits like early admission).
  • Save your souvenir budget for those special experiences that you can’t get elsewhere. For example, you can buy robes every Halloween — you don’t need to get these at the park, but if your child has her heart set on a Pygmy Puff, pony up for it at the Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes for the special naming ceremony.
  • Purchase a special interactive wand on eBay before you go…you’ll save about $20 per wand. BUT, if you do get selected at Ollivander’s Wand Shop, you will probably succumb to temptation and purchase the wand that selects you. If you do, you can always sell yours on eBay after!


The post How Much Does Universal Studios Cost? Universal Orlando Budget (2024) appeared first on We3Travel .

<p>If you are wondering how much Universal Studios costs I have your complete Universal Orlando budget breakdown and money savings tips.</p>

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Tips for Visiting Universal Studios Florida While Pregnant

Alisha McDarris

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A trip to Universal Studios Florida — with its shows, roller coasters and immersive rides — is a bucket list trip for some families. If you're planning a visit to Universal Studios when you’re pregnant, though, there are some things you'll need to consider.

We’ve outlined safe things to do, see and experience if you're pregnant at Universal Studios, including which rides and attractions you can enjoy. We also have some tips for making the visit more comfortable.

Visiting Universal Studios while pregnant

Just because you’re expecting doesn’t mean you have to miss out on fun. But you’ll want to consider how far along you are and whether the limited number of rides and attractions you can participate in will be worth the price of admission.

If you’re visiting Universal Studios during the first trimester of a low-risk pregnancy, you may be able to enjoy a few rides. However, experts generally agree that the jerky and jarring movements you experience on roller coaster-type attractions aren’t ideal for a developing fetus, and they could potentially lead to serious complications.

So before you stand in line, check the posted warnings for each ride and play it safe by avoiding any ride that recommends pregnant visitors not participate.

» Learn more: Being pregnant at Disney World is no reason to miss out on fun

Pregnancy-safe rides at Universal Studios

While some attractions post a warning that advises pregnant people to avoid them, a handful of relaxed rides are considered safe. Here’s a list of Universal Studios rides that pregnant individuals can enjoy, as listed on the park’s website.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

These rides are deemed safe for pregnancy at Universal's Islands of Adventure:


One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Hogwarts Express: Hogsmeade Station.

Universal Studios Florida

These Universal Studios Florida rides are safe for pregnancy:

Animal Actors On Location!

Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl.

The Blues Brothers Show.

Hogwarts Express: King’s Cross Station.

Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show.

The Bourne Stuntacular Show.

Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast.

There aren’t a ton of rides and attractions recommended for pregnant visitors. However, you can still wander the parks, visit immersive worlds within each park — like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — and enjoy most of the live shows, street entertainment and games. Of course, you can also try the many food offerings.

» Learn more: Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure

Tips for visiting Universal while pregnant

It's important to consider how you’ll be feeling. For example, if you’re often tired during the day, keep your energy levels in mind when planning your itinerary. Consider booking a hotel on site so you don’t have to travel far if you need a midday nap or want to end the day early.

» Learn more: Best Universal Orlando hotels

Likewise, if you experience morning sickness and snacking helps you feel better, consider planning activities around visits to snack stands and restaurants so you can sit, eat and reenergize whenever necessary. At the very least, come prepared with snacks you know will soothe your nausea. Small snacks and bottled water are permitted in the park.

If you’re in your third trimester, make sure you’re cleared by your doctor to travel, especially if the trip involves flying. Some airlines may request a note from your physician approving the travel, depending on how far along you are.

» Learn more: Can you fly while pregnant? Not always

Whenever you visit, stay hydrated, especially if it’s hot outside, and pace yourself. It may not hurt to study a map of where the bathrooms are, either.

Wear comfortable shoes, don’t try to carry too much with you throughout the day and listen to your body. Have fun, but also rest when you need to.

Visiting Universal Studios Florida while pregnant recapped

If you’re pregnant at Universal Studios Orlando, take heart: You won’t be sitting on a park bench the whole day — unless you want to. You should know most rides will be off-limits per safety warnings, which means shows, attractions and character encounters will be the main events for you.

If that's enough, make sure to plan your day around your needs to enjoy the experience.

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No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

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