Universal Resorts – Hollywood and Orlando

So, you want to visit a park other than one run by Disney. It’s ok! I won’t judge you. In fact, I encourage all Disney fans to give Universal a try as they have a lot to offer.

The resort in Hollywood includes such a cool focus on the movie industry. And, it’s packed with thrill rides.

The resort in Orlando is a much more inclusive experience with Harry Potter featured in amazing ways in BOTH parks.

Let’s review everything you need to know about Universal Studios parks.

Basic Info

Universal Studios – just like Disney – has resorts on both coasts.

Universal Hollywood is comprised of one park, two major hotels, and CityWalk, which is the shopping and dining district adjacent to the park.

Universal Orlando is comprised of two parks, one water park, 8 hotels, and CityWalk. Everything is more elaborate at Universal Orlando!

Both resorts immerse you in a world unlike you’re familiar with at Disney Parks. The rides are typically more intense, the focus is a bit older, and the storytelling aspects include some favorites you won’t find at Disney. Harry Potter, Transformers, Jurassic Park, and the Simpsons are just a few of the examples of what you’ll find.

Who You Should Book Your Trip With

Get Away Today is the absolute best in the industry. I can’t recommend them enough! They booked my trip to Universal Studios Orlando in late 2019 and were a wealth of information.

I sincerely recommend you inquire with Get Away Today as you get started planning a visit to Universal Orlando or Universal Hollywood. They know all about each.

Start at this link to request a free quote. It takes just a few minutes to complete the quote request and it could save you LOTS of money.

Ready to book now? This link has all discounts in place and will walk you through the reservation process. If you would rather speak to someone directly, call toll free 855.GET.AWAY. A reservation specialist can answer whatever questions you need before or after booking.

***When you book with Get Away Today, I make a small commission. I appreciate your support!

Current Discounts

Get Away Today has a fantastic special right now for Universal Orlando which includes 2 days free when you buy a 2-day, 2-park ticket. 2 days free! Book those tickets here.

Interested in visiting Universal Hollywood? This link has discounted tickets.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Ok, let’s chat about Universal Studios Hollywood.

My family visited this resort in August of 2019. It was my very first experience at a Universal park and I was super impressed.

We stayed at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, which is walking distance to the park. It’s old school fabulous with a nod to vintage Hollywood. Upon walking in, Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens was checking out. Checking out of the hotel. NOT checking me out. Don’t read that too quickly. As soon as Carter (my 19 year old son) finished explaining who he was to me, I nearly ran into Lamar Odom of the L.A. Lakers and Kardashian fame.

We were all, “Is this the park? Do we even need to leave? Who else will we see?!” As we stood in line to enter the park, Carter pointed out Chris Paul, point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, also preparing to go in. It was a bit overwhelming.

We spent one busy day at the park and then an additional to repeat favorite shows and attractions. With a good plan, you can conquer the entire park in one day. Two days is ideal, as you’ll get to see everything in more detail, but one day will suffice if that’s all you have.

With the exception of one attraction, we completed every ride in a single day with no more than a 25 minute wait for anything. And, we did NOT have early entry privileges! We saved shows for the following day, but if you only have one, you could enjoy shows and walk through experiences during the 4.5 hour mid-day break we took.

This link shares allllll about our visit to the park in Hollywood as well as our stay at the Sheraton Universal. In that link, I take you through a tour of the hotel, list the order of attractions I recommend you use, share photos from the park, detail two popular restaurants on-site, etc, etc.

Universal Studios Orlando

Ok, now for Universal Studios Orlando.

There are three parks to choose from in Orlando and you really have to visit all of them. I recommend three or four days at Universal on the east coast.

The parks include:

Click on each of the parks, above, for scoop on what you’ll find at each park. Both theme parks are a quick walk or water taxi ride from your Universal Orlando Resort Hotel. Volcano Bay Water Park requires a shuttle from the resorts, but they run often and get you there in just a few minutes.

There are several resorts to choose from at Universal Orlando, but I can’t stress this enough: If your budget allows, book a Premier property.

Premier resorts differ from other Universal Orlando properties because they include complimentary Express Passes for the two Universal parks, priority seating at select restaurants, and larger rooms overall. The Premier category best matches what Disney fans know as “Deluxe” resorts.

The complimentary Express Passes for all registered guests in your room are a big deal, guys. I encourage you to do the math in order to find out if this is a fit for you. One Express Pass costs $69.99 plus tax per person. If you have as few as two people in your room, it makes sense to stay at a Premier property.

While I don’t think the Express Pass is essential for a Universal Hollywood visit, I absolutely recommend it for Universal Orlando. It makes a big difference in your park experience.

This link shares alllll about my stay at the fabulous Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, which is one of the three Premier Resorts. Take a look at that link for a thorough review of the property, info on the water taxi, details on the bus to Volcano Bay and lots more.

The other resorts are darling and have many lovely qualities, however, I can’t recommend a Premier property enough for your trip. Simply put, the parks are harder to navigate in Orlando. Unlike Universal Hollywood, where I rode all but one attraction in a single day with two big meals as well as a 4+ hour afternoon break, Universal Orlando demands more. And, you’ll want to spend LOTS of time soaking up everything Harry Potter.

Where to Find Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

At Universal Hollywood, the following are must-sees for any Harry Potter fan.

Attractions:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Flight of the Hippogriff

Dining:

  • Three Broomsticks Restaurant (review here)

Shopping Favorites:

  • Honeydukes
  • Hogsmeade Station
  • Gladrags Wizardwear

Where to Find Butterbeer:

  • At the cart at the front of the park
  • Three Broomsticks Restaurant
  • Hogs Head Pub

Where to Buy an Interactive Wand:

  • Ollivander’s

***This post shares LOTS of photos from Universal Hollywood’s Harry Potter themed restaurants, attractions, and more.

Where to Find Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando

There’s so much to see related to Harry Potter at the Orlando parks. The following are must sees.

Universal Studios Florida

Attractions:

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Hogwart’s Express (likely the coolest thing you’ll do at the park!)
  • Diagon Alley (no way to explain how amazing this area of the park is – you have to see it)

Dining:

  • Leaky Cauldron Restaurant (British food)
  • Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment Beverage Kiosk
  • The Hopping Pot

Shopping Favorites:

  • Gringott’s Money Exchange
  • Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop
  • Scribbulus
  • Borgin and Burkes
  • Shutterbutton’s
  • Globus Mundi
  • Wizeacre’s Wizarding Equipment
  • Quality Quidditch Supplies

Where to Find Butterbeer:

  • The Hopping Pot
  • Leaky Cauldron Restaurant

Where to Buy an Interactive Wand:

  • Ollivanders
  • Wands by Gregorovitch

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Attractions:

  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Hogwart’s Express (likely the coolest thing you’ll do at the park!)

Dining:

  • Three Broomsticks Restaurant
  • Hog’s Head Pub (in the back of Three Broomsticks Restaurant)

Shopping Favorites:

  • Honeydukes Sweet Shop
  • Owl Post Stationery Store (mail letters from Owl Post and they’ll stamp each with “Hogsmeade”)
  • Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods
  • Dervish and Banges

Where to Find Butterbeer:

  • Three Broomsticks Restaurant
  • Hog’s Head Pub (in the back of Three Broomsticks Restaurant)

Where to Buy an Interactive Wand:

  • Interactive Wands

Volcano Bay Themed Water Park

Universal’s Volcano Bay is unlike any water park you have visited before.

First, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The theming is intricate and beautiful. I haven’t seen anything like it at other parks.

Krakatau Volcano anchors the park, sitting boldly in the middle, featuring water streaming down it during the day and lava effects at night. It’s 200 feet tall!

The park is comprised of three “villages”, including:

  • Wave Village – This area surrounds the Krakatau Volcano. It includes a beachy area and an enormous pool. Relax in the water or nearby in a cabana while taking in the views.
  • River Village – Ideal for young children, River Village offers a “lazy river”, smaller slides, the Tot Tiki Reef play area, and plenty of other things for kids to enjoy.
  • Rainforest Village – The third village is where things get really exciting. Find a more adventurous “lazy river”, intense water slides, and a beautiful pool.

The coolest part of this water park is the technology it has incorporated into attractions. Unlike the parks where I spent my childhood – with little feet uncomfortable on hot concrete while waiting what seemed like forever to board an attraction – Volcano Bay has figured out how to minimize your time in line. The TapuTapu waterproof wrist band allows you to hold your place in line at certain attractions as well as charge food, drinks and merchandise during your visit.

Notes

  • Attractions at Universal Parks are more intense than those at Disney Parks. I recommend trying Dramamine to help with nausea if you struggle with motion sickness.
  • Get Away Today has lots of tips for a successful visit to both Universal Hollywood and Universal Orlando. Check those out for sure.
  • Visiting Hollywood? Here‘s info on Los Angeles. Visiting Orlando? Here‘s info on Walt Disney World.

Questions? Leave me a comment. If I don’t have the information you’re looking for, I’ll do my best to find it!

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