Five Tips for a Successful Family Vacation at Universal Orlando

Five Tips for a Successful Family Vacation at Universal Orlando

Our colleague Ryan Jacobson shares with us five tips for a successful family vacation at Universal Orlando. Check out his great advice!

Before this summer, my wife and I hadn’t been to the Universal Orlando Resort since the early 1990s—which is essentially like saying we’ve never been to Universal Orlando, as so many rides have been replaced. Like so many other families, we were eager to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—so we decided that this was the year. We donned our masks, braved the COVID-19 surge, and endured the oppressive August heat. Our family of four had a fantastic time, and we learned a few things along the way that I hope will help you.

1. Stay at a Universal Premier Hotel.

We spent five nights at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, one of three Premier hotels. (The others include the Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.)

Inside the Loews Royal Pacific Resort

It was surprising to find out how close we were to Universal Studios Florida (US) and Islands of Adventure (IA): just a 5-minute water-taxi ride or a 10-minute walk. Shuttles were also available, but the drop-off spot didn’t seem much closer than our hotel. The convenient location is certainly a consideration in choosing a Premier hotel, but the real reason to stay is that the rooms come with Universal Express Unlimited passes, which are well worth the hotels’ upgraded costs.

Family Vacation at Universal Orlando
Water taxis offer relaxing rides to the parks.

2. Get a Universal Express Unlimited Pass.

Most rides at US and IA offer two lines: the general line and the Universal Express line. (There is sometimes also a single-rider line if you don’t mind getting separated from your party.) I can’t even begin to guess how much time our Universal Express Unlimited passes saved us. We breezed by dozens upon dozens of people at almost every attraction. Rides with posted wait times of 45 minutes translated into 10- or 15-minute waits for us. Rides with posted wait times of 15 minutes or less usually meant we could walk right on. The only downside was the guilt we felt as we jumped to the front. We had to tell ourselves that this perk was available for anyone willing to fork over from $59.99 for a one-park single-use pass in slow season to $259.99 for a two-park unlimited pass on a holiday. We found that it was a lot less expensive to upgrade our hotel than to buy the passes separately!

3. Go to the Busy Rides Early or Late.

For some reason, the hottest part of the day is also the busiest. If you try to hit a ride like the Jurassic World VelociCoaster, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Transformers: The Ride 3-D, or even The Simpsons Ride, you might wait twice as long in the afternoon as you would before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Meeting Homer outside of The Simpsons Ride

So visit those rides away from peak times; spend the busy hours on great rides with wait times often under 20 minutes, such as Revenge of the Mummy, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and Skull Island.

Family Vacation at Universal Orlando
Transformers: The Ride 3-D was a family favorite.

4. Avoid the Midday Summer Heat. Speaking of those busy afternoons, the heat started getting to us around 1 p.m. every day. The weather became a bit more comfortable after 6 p.m. Because we were staying at the resort, we often used part of this time to retreat to the hotel swimming pool. This was also an ideal time for sit-down meals, our favorite air-conditioned rides, and taking in some shows.

Pool at Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Family Vacation at Universal Orlando
Water rides are great for cooling down, if you don’t mind wet shoes.

5. Remember the Shows.

About those shows: we went into our Universal vacation feeling pretty “meh” about attending them. We were wrong! I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that whatever you think The Bourne Stuntacular is going to be, it’s not. It’s so much better! We saw it twice and might have gone a third time if we had discovered it earlier in the week. The other two shows that really wowed us were the Horror Make-up Show and Animal Actors—On Location! The first is more comedy than horror, but it isn’t for young children; we heard a few little ones cry during our session. The second is good fun for all ages, but the stuffy outdoors venue provides no relief from the heat and humidity.

Lucas enjoyed the Horror Make-up Show… but not the clown!

I hope you find these tips helpful. Next week I’ll offer five more tips that are aimed at visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Be sure to check them out.

Check out Ryan’s tips for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando here. Ryan Jacobson is the author of more than 50 children’s books, including the Constellations Activity Book, Lost in the Wild, and Super Animal Powers. Visit his website at

For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagramPinterest, and YouTube.


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