Walt Disney World often gets most of the attention in the Orlando theme park game. I, however, tend to prefer the – in my opinion – underrated Universal Orlando Resort instead.
I think the rides and guest experiences are better, and of course, they have the Harry Potter Wizarding World. And as a basic millennial, I am a big Harry Potter fan.
Of course, there’s more than just Harry Potter at Universal. In fact, Universal has some of the best rides in Florida.
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Is one day enough for Universal Studios?
If you only have one day to visit the parks, then sure. However, I’d allow for at least two days, if not three.
When you have two days, you can hit the major parks. On your third day, you could go to the waterpark Volcano Bay or revisit the main theme parks for anything you may have missed.
Can you see everything in Universal Studios in one day?
Everything? Nah. But you could hit the hot spots.
If you’re not sure where to start, below are the best things to do at Universal Studios, ranked by park and location for easy planning.
Things to do in Universal Studios:
1. Eat breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron
Begin your day like a wizard and have a magical breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron.
Breakfast is served until 10:30 am, where you can get an American Breakfast or a Traditional Breakfast.
Remember, “traditional” means English here. It comes with scrambled eggs, sausage links, black pudding, English bacon, black beans, a grilled tomato, sauteed mushrooms and breakfast potatoes.
There’s also a Pancake Breakfast and some pastry options, but I typically opt for the American and enjoy the fun environment. It’s a great way to start your day.
2. Purchase an interactive wand from Ollivanders
If you – or your kid(s) – is a Harry Potter fan, consider getting a wand early on in your trip. Of course, the best place to get one is at Ollivanders.
You can skip this step if you have no desire for a wand. However, I’ve been in the position of telling myself I would not get a wand – only to inevitably get one.
There are multiple interactive wand experiences throughout both parks. And the earlier you get one in your trip, the more mileage you’ll get out of it.
Personal note, this place is special to me since it is where I got engaged to my now-husband. I’ve heard that not all wands come with rings, though.
3. Walk around Diagon Alley
Now that your belly is nice and full and you have your wand at the ready, it’s a good time to walk around Diagon Alley and explore the shops.
On this side of the park, that includes Magical Menagerie, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Scribbulus, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment and more.
Some of my favorites are Borgin and Burkes – where you can get Dark Arts oddities – and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes – a prank shop inspired by the Weasley twins.
Your mileage may vary depending on your interest. But personally, I could spend just about all day exploring Diagon Alley.
4. Drink a Butterbeer
Grab a Butterbeer while you explore the many wizarding shops. It tastes a bit like rich cream soda.
You can get Butterbeer from one of the many shops or from a standalone cart. They come hot, cold, frozen or in ice cream form.
5. Ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Now that your tummy has settled, it’s time to ride some rides.
Now, I’ll note here that if you start your day with a light breakfast, you may want to BEGIN with the rides to shorten your wait time, especially if you are taking advantage of early entry.
But personally, I prefer a little time in the morning to warm up to a ride. Anyway, this ride is a motion simulation, 3D/4D experience.
It’s a fun journey through the Gringotts with Harry, Ron and Hermione as you battle Bellatrix, trolls, dragons and even Voldemort. It’s a great ride, and it’s also the only ride on this side of the Harry Potter park.
Riders must be 42” tall to ride. Child swap and single rider lines are available.
6. Catch a magical Harry Potter show
There aren’t a ton of shows in this area of the park, but you can catch the Tales of Beedle and the Bard, a retelling of the famous story with props and puppetry.
There’s also Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees – a musical performance with unique songs like “You Stole My Cauldron But You Can’t Have My Heart”.
It’s worth at least seeing one of them, depending on your preference. Use the app to check showtimes.
7. Get some Butterbeer ice cream
Before you leave Diagon Alley, I recommend the Butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. It’s delicious and definitely refreshing on a hot Florida day.
8. See the Knight Bus
As you exit Diagon Alley, don’t skip over the Knight Bus at King’s Cross.
Here, you can visit Stan Shunpike and see the shrunken talking head. It’s a great photo opportunity.
9. Ride Men in Black Alien Attack
After you’ve had your fill with Harry Potter, start making your way through the rest of the park. If you travel toward the World Expo, you can ride Men in Black Alien Attack.
It’s a fun ride where you get to battle aliens and get a personal score at the end of the ride to see how you did. It’s not thrilling exactly, but it is entertaining.
10. Explore Springfield, U.S.A.
The Home of the Simpsons is a fun area to explore, even if you aren’t much of a Simpsons fan, which, admittedly, I am not. Please don’t judge me.
If you’re ready for lunch after your hearty breakfast, the Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck has some of the best eats in Springfield, U.S.A.
If you want other dining options, you’ve also got Duff Brewery, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Krusty Burger or Flaming Moe’s, which can also do the job.
And if you’ve saved room for dessert, you can get a massive donut from Lard Lad Donuts.
They’re best known for their massive pink donut, which is more photogenic than it is good. Still, theme park life is all about the experience, right?
For rides in this section, you have The Simpsons Ride, which is a fairly tame simulator ride, and the Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, a ride that is perfect after you’ve eaten that big, pink donut.
But honestly, the name is worse than the ride itself. It’s a kid-friendly ride that doesn’t have a height requirement.
Also, be sure to check out the Simpsons Character Zone. Download the app for details.
11. Ride E.T. Adventure
Nearby, you’ll find the E.T. Adventure ride, which is always one that I enjoy riding, even though I travel to theme parks sans kids.
It’s one of the oldest rides in the park.
12. Visit Hollywood
This is where you’ll find the stunt show The Bourne Stuntacular and Universal Orlando’s Horror Make Up Show, an up-close look at some of Hollywood’s ooziest characters.
There are also a few eateries and shops here, including the TODAY Cafe and Mel’s Drive-In.
13. Ride Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
If you enjoy roller coasters, this is easily the best coaster on the Universal side of the park.
On this ride, you get to choose your own song as you soar at 65 mph, 17 stories above the rest of the theme park.
It’s definitely thrilling and not for the faint of heart. And I love it. Guests must be between 51” and 79” tall to ride.
14. Ride Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is one of the more popular “rides” in the park. I think it’s less of a ride and more of a motion simulator. However, it’s still a fun experience for kids of all ages.
Of course, if you have little ones, they’ll certainly want to ride this one. Keep in mind that children under 48” tall will need supervision.
15. Meet the Transformers
Nearby, you have a character meet and greet opportunity with the Transformers. These guys are always a fun photo op.
Remember that character interactions are always subject to change, so be sure to check the daily schedule for details.
Nearby, you’ll find the Transformers Ride-3D. While Universal tends to overly rely on simulator rides, this is one of my favorite ones in the park.
You’ll get in a ride vehicle and join Optimus Prime and Bumblebee to battle Megatron.
16. Visit New York
You’ll never travel from Hollywood to New York as fast as you can while visiting Orlando.
Be sure to ride Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. It’s another simulator ride, but I always enjoy it enough to not skip over it during a visit.
17. Ride Revenge of the Mummy
The New York section of the park is home to one of my favorite rides in Orlando, the Revenge of the Mummy. It’s a fun and slightly spooky indoor coaster that is themed after Brenden Fraiser’s popular 1999 movie.
It’s a dark ride that doesn’t have major drops or go upside down, but it is thrilling nonetheless and does go backward. Plus, the ride has received a few upgrades recently and now has a few new effects.
18. Ride Fast and Furious – Supercharged
If there’s time left in the day, I enjoy riding the Fast and Furious – Supercharged ride. It’s classified as a thrill ride, but honestly, for a ride with “fast” in the title, it’s pretty tame.
Your crew will board a bus-type vehicle and travel through a series of scenes with the Fast & Furious crew. It’s entertaining, but it’s not necessarily a must for me.
19. Have dinner or a show in Universal CityWalk
If you’re staying in the theme park for dinner, my crew really enjoys eating at Lombard’s Seafood Grille.
However, if you want a few more options that aren’t technically theme park food, definitely make a visit to CityWalk.
If you’re in the mood for a treat, try a milkshake from the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium or a donut from the popular Voodoo Donuts location.
I definitely recommend exploring CityWalk a bit before you leave the Universal property.
Things to do in Islands of Adventure:
20. Ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
If you’re taking advantage of Universal’s early entry, start out your day by heading to Hogsmeade. On this side of the park, I like to eat a light breakfast and jump in line to ride Hagrid’s.
It’s one of the best rides in the park, and your best chance of a shorter wait time will be in the morning.
21. Walk around Hogsmeade
After you ride Hagrid’s, take some time to explore Hogsmeade.
On this side, you’ll find shops such as Dervish and Banges, Filch’s Emporium, Honeydukes, Ollivanders and the Owl Post.
Wand shopping at Ollivanders is essentially a must, if you haven’t already done so.
22. Grab something to eat at the Three Broomsticks
The Three Broomsticks is pretty similar to the Leaky Cauldron, but it’s still fun to explore both restaurants if you’re a big Harry Potter fan.
If not, you can probably choose one or the other and then move on to another park experience.
23. Watch a Harry Potter show
In Hogsmeade, you have two main options for shows the Frog Choir or the Triwizard Spirit Rally.
The Triwizard Spirit Rally is probably my favorite of the two, which features students from Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.
The Frog Choir features giant croaking frogs performing wizarding songs, which is fun but not necessarily a must-see.
24. Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This ride is a must when visiting the Harry Potter section of Universal. I’m not saying it’s the best ride in the park, but it’s one of the most iconic ones.
It’s a 3D adventure ride where you’ll get to soar above the castle and join Harry on a unique ride.
25. Ride Flight of the Hippogriff
Flight of the Hippogriff is a fun little coaster in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s not a must-do, but it is a fun, easy coaster around Hagrid’s hut.
Riders should be at least 36” tall, and those under 48” will need a supervising companion.
26. Take the Hogwarts Express
At some point during your Harry Potter journey, I do recommend hopping on the Hogwarts Express. However, keep in mind that this ride will take you to the Universal Studios side of the park. Also, you’ll need a park hopper ticket to ride it.
Since the train ride takes you back and forth between the parks, it’s best to wait to ride this until you’re ready to venture to the other side, unless you’re willing to wait in line to ride the train again.
It is slightly different depending on which way you’re traveling, but not so drastic that you absolutely need to ride it both ways.
27. Explore the Lost Continent
After you’ve had your fill of Harry Potter, you can venture down to the Lost Continent.
There isn’t much to do in this section, to be honest, but it is home to one of the best restaurants in the park – Mythos Restaurant. It’s a great opportunity to eat lunch.
28. Visit Seuss Landing
This is a fun area for all ages, but you’ll likely spend a bit more time here if you have kids.
In this area, you’ll find the Dr. Seuss Character Zone and rides such as:
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
- The Cat in the Hat
The train ride is the best one for those traveling without children.
There are also, of course, Seuss-themed restaurants and snack shops. If you’re in the mood for a cool snack, stop by the Hop On Pop Ice Cream Shop.
For the little ones, they also have the If I Ran the Zoo play area.
29. Head over to Marvel Super Hero Island
This is a great area to ride some rides.
My favorites are The Incredible Hulk Coaster and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
The Hulk Coaster was one of the first coaters to use a launch system, and it travels a max speed of 67 mph. It has seven inversions over the lengthy ride, and it’s perhaps my favorite coaster in the whole park.
The Spider-Man ride is another 3D adventure ride, which Universal arguably relies a little heavily on. Still, it’s worth riding.
Doctor Doom’s Fearfall and Storm Force Accelatron are both okay, but honestly, you can probably skip these if you’re running low on time. They don’t offer anything unique that you can’t find at most other theme parks.
30. Meet some Marvel characters
If you want to have a photo op with some of your favorite Marvel characters, this might be your best chance to do so East of the Mississippi.
You’ll likely get a chance to see favorites like Captain America and Spider-Man.
Be sure to check the app for details and times.
31. Visit Toon Lagoon
If you’re ready to cool off, it’s a good time to ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. It’s a classic water drop ride where you will likely get very wet.
This section is also where you will find Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, a classic raft ride where you’ll also be likely to do some cooling off.
The rest of this section is likely for the little ones in the family, with the play area Me Ship, The Olive and more.
32. Ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Riders travel on a shuttle-type bus through Skull Island and eventually enter a cave with bats and scenes from the movie and then eventually, you’ll see Kong himself in a larger-than-life portrayal.
It’s entertaining but not the most thrilling ride in the park.
33. Visit Jurassic Park
The Jurassic Park section has great rides.
One of the most popular rides – and one of the newest – is the Jurassic World VelociCoaster This coaster received a USA Today award for best new theme park attraction.
It’s a thrilling ride with a speed of 70 mph and about 4,700 feet of track.
This is also where you’ll find Pteranodon Flyers, which is a fun ride. However, adults are only able to ride if they are accommodating a child.
Finally, we have another water ride, the Jurassic Park River Adventure.
34. Check out Jurassic Park play areas
Perhaps not surprisingly, this is another great area to explore for kids. Camp Jurassic is a play area where kids can explore caves and climb on nets and suspension bridges.
Also, be sure to check out the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, where kids can interact with fossils and dinosaur eggs.
35. Take a photo with the Raptor Encounter
When you’re in this section of the park, be sure to take part in one of the most unique character encounters, the Raptor Encounter.
This is where you’ll meet Blue the Raptor and hear some interesting facts about the creature before getting a photo with her.
36. Watch the night show on the Hogwarts Castle
After sunset, be sure to check out the shows at Hogwarts Castle. There’s the Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle on select nights in the fall and the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle on select nights from January through September.
It’s essentially the Harry Potter version of Disney’s castle extravaganza.
37. Eat at Mama Della’s Ristorante
Mama Della’s Ristorante is my absolute favorite place to eat at a Universal Resort. It’s located at Portofino Hotel, but you don’t need to be a resort guest to dine here.
You’ll be serenaded by a trio who travels from table to table and enjoy authentic Italian cuisine.
Everything from the theming, the presentation and the food at this restaurant is incredible.
What about the special events?
if you’re visiting during a special event like Hollywood Horror Nights or Mardi Gras, that changes the equation a bit, so adjust accordingly.
Downloading the app is one of the best ways to stay up-to-date on show times and special events.
What are your favorite things to do at Universal Studios Orlando vacation? Let us know in the comments below.