There’s a fine calculus to vacation planning. It’s a complex formula of budget divided by available time multiplied by just what it is you hope to accomplish.
Theme parks don’t make this math easier with reduced pricing the longer you stay. Sure, six days at Disney will cost us “x” amount of dollars, but do you realize we can add another day for only “y” more? Is there a point when it is $40 a head?
At Universal, it’s trickier. With only two theme parks currently on the property, you have to find the sweet spot between not enough time in the park and too much of a good thing.
So what’s the right answer? Read on.
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How many days are needed at Universal Orlando?
I think if we live by the textbook definition, one day for each of the theme parks is the minimum needed. That’s two days if you’re not going to the Volcano Bay water park and three days if you are.
I think this calculus changes when the new park, Epic Universe, opens. I think – in the early days at least – that park will need two days to be fully explored.
But let’s consider the definition of need. When planning your vacation, what do we mean by “need”?
To me, need implies necessary. How many days are necessary to take care of everything you need to take care of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure?
How many days to try the attractions, shows and food? And how many days to explore the park? Your mileage may vary.
Also, these recommendations don’t include special events like Mardi Gras or Halloween Horror Nights. Obviously, those seasonal events pack in more things to do and will require more time in which to do it.
Is only one day at Universal Studios worth it?
So we’ve said you “need” two days to explore the Universal Orlando Resort, but your itinerary only allows for one day. Should you still go?
Sure. Get park-to-park tickets and – if you can – Universal Express passes. Tackle as much as you can. Can you do everything you might want to do in a day? Probably not. You’ll have to make some sacrifices.
What are the absolute musts if I only have one day in the park?
Of course, this depends on your preferences and the ages of your group. If you have smaller kids, Seussland might top the list.
But overall, the one-day must-dos are:
1. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Generally speaking, this is the best and most popular experience in the parks whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not.
Take the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade on Universal’s Islands of Adventure side. Hopefully, you can use your early park admission from staying on the property to get an early ride on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Be sure to participate in a wand ceremony at Ollivander’s, get a butterbeer or two and take in as many of the Harry Potter rides as time allows. This includes Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade and Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley. You will need a park-to-park ticket to do it all.
2. Go to Jurassic Park
Make sure to visit Blue, the velociraptor, for a surprisingly realistic meet and greet.
The Jurassic World Velocicoaster is a must if you like roller coasters, but don’t sleep on the Jurassic Park River Adventure.
Kong Skull Island is right there, too. If the wait time isn’t bad, knock it out while you’re there.
3. Visit Springfield and ride The Simpsons Ride
Why? Because there’s a reason “The Simpsons” has been on the air since the first George Bush administration.
4. Dine at Universal CityWalk
Technically not in either of the parks, CityWalk offers a wide array of dining experiences that are generally superior to what’s inside the park.
CityWalk is also open later. Therefore, you can focus your park time on attractions and then eat after hours at a place like the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Hard Rock Cafe or Cowfish.
The entertainment district – which basically connects to each park entrance – really adds to your overall Universal Studios experience in a way that you can’t do at Walt Disney World.
At Disney, it would be hard to do a full day at the Magic Kingdom and still get anything out of Disney Springs.
Are 2 days enough for Universal Studios Orlando?
I think two days is the absolute baseline if you want to have a full experience. In two days, you can add some of the parks’ most popular attractions that you might not have been able to get to in a single day.
For example, if you have two days, include rides like Transformers, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Men in Black Alien Attack on your list.
Can you spend 3 days at Universal?
Absolutely. I think if you want to say you’ve really done Universal Studios, two days is the absolute minimum, but three days is really the better option.
That extra day to pick up anything you might have missed. The rides, for me, include The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man or Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Are 4 days too much for Universal Studios?
No, especially if you want to spend a day at Volcano Bay.
But even if you don’t, two days per park takes a lot of the pressure off.
Value pricing for longer stays also means that if you wear down on day three and want to go back to your hotel and enjoy some of the perks there, you can do it without feeling like you’re throwing away money.
The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, for example, has its own amenities that are worth exploring.
Are 5 days at Universal too many?
We did five days on our last vacation, and it was nice. Though by the end of the trip, we were running out of “must-dos.” That’s the difference between a Disney and a Universal vacation currently.
At Disney with its four theme parks, five days is barely enough to get everything done as you race from attraction to attraction trying to squeeze it all in.
Conversely, at Universal, five days is luxurious. Saunter along the promenades. Chuckle at the common people in lengthy queues. Arrive at one in the afternoon and leave at 4:30.
“Oh, 40 minutes to ride Flight of the Hippogriff? How droll. We rode that ride days ago and only waited 15 minutes.”
On what day should we experience Poseidon’s Fury attraction?
Never. I could be caught in a Groundhog Day-esque infinite loop in Universal Studios and would never set foot in that place again.
Even if the only way I could receive deliverance would be to endure a single rotation through Poseidon’s Fury, I could not – on good conscience – recommend the ride.
How many days do you allow for Universal Orlando? Let us know in the comments!