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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Nicolle

Heidiisms Guide to Universal Studios Orlando

My family & I just got back from the best vacation ever at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Fun Fact, I have been coming here since I was a kid and have so many treasured memories exploring the hotels & parks. Here is my Heidiisms Guide on where to stay, how to get to the parks & CityWalk, my favorite places to explore and my favorite rides at each park.

Where to stay:

Hard Rock Hotel is beaming with music history & memorabilia, underwater music in the pool, live music, great eats and luxurious amenities. HRH is located the closest to Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure, with so many options to get there: walking (also they have pedi-cabs along the walking path for really quick access), ferry, or grab a shuttle bus to CityWalk or Volcano Bay. Staying at the HRH also gets you complimentary Universal Express Unlimited Ride Access & Early Access to Volcano Bay & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Get all the romance and charm of Italy right at your doorstep by staying at the Portofino Bay Hotel. The PBH really makes you feel like your in Europe and features 3 themed swimming pools, a giant Roman-aqueduct slide, a spa and fitness center and so many amazing restaurants & lounges. PBH gives you options when getting to the parks, from walking to the water ferry & shuttles. Staying at the PBH also gets you complimentary Universal Express Unlimited Ride Access & Early Access to Volcano Bay & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Universal’s Endless Summer Resorts provide themed resorts that are extra-affordable all while bringing the magic of coastal vibes inspired by surf culture with sand, sea and breathtaking sunsets. At ESR, you can lounge by the pool or grab some great eats. The quickest way to get to CityWalk which provides access to Islands of Adventure & Universal Studios or Volcano Bay is through the shuttle buses. Staying at the ESR also gets you Early Access to Volcano Bay & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Aventura Hotel is modern, classic & stylish. AH has a pool, splash zone, fire pits, a good selection of restaurants & lounges and a roof top bar with stunning views of all the theme parks. AH is the second closest to Volcano Bay (across the street from Cabana Bay Beach Resort) which is a quick easy walk on the dedicated walking path. There are also shuttles to CityWalk which brings you to Islands of Adventure & Universal Studios. Staying at the AH gets you Early Access to Volcano Bay & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Cabana Bay Beach Resort brings the 60 & 70’s flair of old school Orlando and even reminds me of Palm Springs, CA. With an Art Deco and vibrant theme, CBBR is a family-friendly resort that has something for everyone. CBBR has multiple pools, a lazy river, water slide, arcade, bowling alley, fire pits for roasting s’mores, starbucks right on the property and an amazing cafeteria style restaurant. CBBR is a quick, few minute walk to Volcano Bay and a short shuttle bus away from CityWalk where you can access both Islands of Adventure & Universal Studios. Heidiisms tip: try the 2 Bedroom, 2 Bath suites with epic views of Volcano Bay! Staying at the CBBR gets you Early Access to Volcano Bay & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Sapphire Falls Resort brings the tropics to you with beautifully landscaped grounds, resort style white sand beach pool with water slide & waterfalls, 4 different restaurants & lounges, and optional cabana rentals. SFR gives you options when getting to the parks, from the water ferry to shuttles. Staying at the SFR gets you Early Access to Volcano Bay & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Royal Pacific Resort brings the beauty of the South Pacific and island paradise vibes to your vacation. RPR has a lagoon-style swimming pool and beach with kids play area, a variety of restaurants & lounges and an impressive gym! The quickest way to get to Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios or CityWalk would be through the water ferry or shuttle bus. For Volcano Bay, the shuttle bus would be the quickest option. Staying at the RPR also gets you complimentary Universal Express Unlimited Ride Access & Early Access to Volcano Bay & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

How to get there:

Whether you were taking a quick shuttle bus, water ferry, Lyft/Uber or driving you will be brought to CityWalk which is in the center between Islands of Adventure & Universal Studios (separate shuttles will bring you to Volcano Bay). If you are staying at Cabana Bay Beach Resort or Aventura Hotel the quickest way to Volcano Bay would be through the walking path.

What to do:

Volcano Bay is Universal’s first water park and South Oasis themed with a giant Volcano in the center of the park. We loved the TapuTapu waterproof wristbands that allowed you to check in for the water slides, water coasters and main attractions while allowing you play while your TapuTapu keeps track of your virtual place in line. Once your time is ready to return, your TapuTapu will alert you to return where you can enter to ride. If you are planning to stay the day, I definitely recommend getting a locker located towards the center of the park or renting a cabana for the day which usually comes with a locker. Also, check your TapuTapu into some of the bigger attractions early to avoid longer virtual wait times in the afternoon. Volcano Bay does have limited Express Passes for the day. Volcano Bay also has an unlimited photo pass where you can tap your TapuTapu throughout the park and automatically when you ride the rides to have clear, quality photos without the need of bringing a camera for a small additional fee.

Our favorite rides with TapuTapu:

  1. Krakatau Aqua Coaster

  2. Honu of the Honu ika Moana

  3. ika Moana of the Honu ika Mona

Our favorite enjoy anytime rides (no TapuTapu virtual wait):

  1. Kopiko Wai Winding River

  2. TeAwa The Fearless River

  3. Waturi Beach

Islands of Adventure or IOA is one of my personal favorite parks with so much to offer and so many different worlds to explore! If you can, buying the Universal Express Pass (complimentary if staying at Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort or Portofino Bay Hotel) is a wonderful addition to providing quicker access to see & ride more of the park in a single day.

This is my Heidiisms way to explore the park:

  1. Arriving for Early Access by staying at one of the Universal Studios Hotels & Resorts to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure & Jurassic World VelociCoaster. These two rides do not have access to Express Passes and can fill up very quickly with long lines. I arrived 45 minutes before early opening and was one of the first to ride Hagrid’s for the day with only about a 5 minute wait. After, I headed straight for VelociCoaster and was able to get on in about 30 minutes.

  2. After getting my morning thrills on the two new coasters & adventures, I head back to Seuss Landing to ride The Cat in the Hat, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolly Train Ride & the Caro-Seuss-el.

  3. Next it’s on to Marvel Super Hero Island to take on The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall & The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

  4. Right now it’s about mid-day and it’s getting hot out, so I make my way to Toon Lagoon to cool down with some water rides! A thing to note- you will get wet on these rides but they are so much fun! Buying a poncho will dramatically help if you don’t like getting wet on the rides. My favorite two rides in Toon Lagoon are Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls & Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.

  5. Once already a little wet, but cooled off- I head to Jurassic World to ride one more water ride, the Jurassic Park River Adventure which will get you a little wet but not soaked like Toon Lagoon’s rides.

  6. With the late afternoon sun coming in, now it’s time for one of my favorite parts of IOA- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My first stop is at the Flight of the Hippogriff then onto Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey. If you still have time in your day you will want to ride both sides of the Hogwarts Express which brings you between parks from IOA to Universal Studios and from Universal Studios to IOA. You will need a park hopper pass to ride and each way is a different experience.

Universal Studios is the OG Theme Park that let’s you ride the movies!!! Universal Studios or Uni consists of eight themed areas – Hollywood, Production Central, New York, San Francisco, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield, and Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone.

Here are my Heidiisms Top 10 picks for rides:

  1. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

  2. Revenge of the Mummy

  3. Men In Black Alien Attack

  4. Hogwarts Express

  5. E.T. Adventure

  6. Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley

  7. Fast and the Furious Ride

  8. Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster

  9. The Simpson’s Ride

  10. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem Rides

Welcome to the Epicenter of Awesomeness! With so many great restaurants, shops and lounges this is the perfect spot to hang between adventures! While in CityWalk, definitely try Voodoo Doughnuts, Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville and The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. Heidiisms tip: book reservations as restaurants tend to fill up quick for dinner. If you forget, ask if they have a bar with open seating. Some restaurants, like the Hard Rock Cafe, will actually have open tables and bar seating with the full menu. We were able to walk in to the bar/lounge and get seats & served immediately even with an hour wait at Hard Rock Cafe.

Feel free to reach out to me on social media with any questions!

Until next time my TRAVELisms babes,

xoxo Heidiisms 💋

**Some images courtesy of Universal Studios Orlando.

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