Universal Orlando Resort: Vacation Like You Mean It

Universal Studios Orlando Resort
Universal Studios Orlando Resort

Location: Florida

Table of Contents



The Destination: Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Florida
Universal's Islands of Adventure
Universal's Volcano Bay
Universal's CityWalk
Universal's Lodging

Travel Recommendations

Overview: Let Yourself Woah

Universal Orlando Resort is a multi-themed park and resort complex featuring two theme parks, a water park, a night-time commercial district, and eight hotels. The second-largest resort complex in Florida, the Universal Orlando Resort spans over 500 acres and a multitude of attractions centered on the film and entertainment industries, rivaling the nearby Disney Hollywood Studios theme park. Located in Orlando, Florida, the Universal Orlando Resort is open year-round with special celebrations on major holidays.

The two theme parks are composed on sixteen distinct lands coving a vast array of NBCUniversal’s intellectual property library centered around film and entertainment franchises from Dreamworks, Illumination, and Warner Brothers. The two parks range in attractions from visiting the inside of Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter franchise to a live Fear Factor show to a thrill ride from the Mummy franchise. Universal Orlando Resort contains some of the most visited theme parks in the world, with Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure ranked 11th and 12th respectively in total attendance worldwide. With a combined attendance of over 21 million in 2019, Universal Orlando Resort offers a wide selection of entertainment and lodging choices for people of all ages.

Universal Studios Orlando
Universal Studios Orlando (travelingmom.com)

A History of Universal Studios Orlando

The Universal Orlando Resort opened in 1990 as a direct competitor to the behemoth Walt Disney World development. Focused on renowned entertainment, movies, and television, the Universal Orlando Resort aimed to rival Disney’s Hollywood Studios and capitalize on the burgeoning resort and theme park expansion in sunny central Florida. In Central Florida, Universal aimed to produce a hybrid movie and television production area with a tourism-focused “behind the scenes” experience. With a lack of public interest in this approach, Universal shifted the purpose to include staged rides and attractions in the park. Opened as one theme park, Universal Studios Florida, the development soon expanded to include a second park, Islands of Adventure, in 1999 along with cojoining hotels and other amenities like Universal CityWalk, the nightlife district, to make Universal Orlando Resort into a multi-day experience.

Following the success of this immersive experience, Universal acquired the nearby Wet n’ Wild Orlando, now Universal’s Volcano Bay, water park and developed a second on-site hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel. Over subsequent years, new lodging options of varying affordability were constructed along with changing attractions, eateries, and rides and the addition of a Harry Potter-themed district in each of the parks. The establishment of lands with evolving consumer tastes has allowed Universal Orlando Resort to compete with its neighbor, Walt Disney World, as the premier central Floridian theme park escape.

In the future, there are plans to construct a third Universal park called Universal’s Epic Universe, a couple of miles south of the main hub. Construction and planning stalled due to the Covid-19 Pandemic; however, construction resumed in March 2021. While exact details of Epic Universe are not yet confirmed, there are rumors and evidence of a proposed Nintendo land, a third Harry Potter land, and unknown lands tied to Dreamworks and Illumination intellectual properties.

Epic Universe Concept Art
Epic Universe Concept Art (cnntraveler.com)

The Destination: Universal Studios Orlando Resort

The Universal Orlando Resort is an agglomeration of two theme parks, a water park, an entertainment district, and numerous hotels. This guide with take you through each of these components including a description, interesting finds, dining, entertainment, and transportation within the resort.

Universal Studios Florida

The initial theme park of Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Florida, hosts a plethora of rides, live performances, and entertainment facilities. With nearly 11 million visitors in 2019, it is the 11th most visited theme park in the world and 6th in North America. Universal Studios Florida consists of eight themed regions encircling the central lagoon. These eight regions are clockwise around the lagoon - Production Central, New York, San Francisco, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, and Hollywood.

The Production Central area is located just to the left of the entrance to the park and hosts a selection of shopping and dining facilities. Production Central sets the stage for the cinematic extravagance of the park and is features design focusing “the big screen” with giant soundstages and interactive movie and immersive ride experiences. Attractions in this area include Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, and Transformers: The Ride 3D. Production Central also offers Universal Music Plaza, a large stage for festivals and shows. Dining opportunities in Production Central include the full-service restaurant Universal Studios’s Classic Monsters Cafe and the quick-service restaurant Bone Chillin.

The New York area is just past Production Central and focuses on immersive experiences that will make you think you are in the “Big Apple.” New York offers guests entertainment choices from classics like The Blues Brothers Show and a Marilyn Monroe show to modern a capella Sing It! And percussion shows Beat Builders. New York is also dotted with restaurant options of which include the full-service Irish-themed Finnegan’s Bar & Grill as well as a plethora of quick-service stations including Louie’s Italian Restaurant, Guido’s Gelato, as well as famous American chains such as Starbucks and Auntie Anne’s. Although New York focuses on a variety of dining and entertainment options, there are two attractions including the coaster ride Revenge of the Mummy and a 3-D movie experience Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.

San Francisco
San Francisco (uofan.com)

The San Francisco area follows the lagoon past New York and follows the New York area in its attention to dining options. The singular attraction in this area is the auto show Fast & Furious - Supercharged with memorabilia from the Fast & Furious Franchise. As for dining, San Francisco offers a full-service restaurant called Lombard’s Seafood Grille. Quick service options range from Richter’s Burger Co. to San Francisco Pastry Company.

The Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley area offers the most of any area in the Universal Studios Florida park. Following the success of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in the Island of Adventure Park, Universal created an addition to the land focusing on the Harry Potter world’s shopping and entertainment area of Diagon Alley. On the outside of the area facing the large lagoon is the London Waterfront. This area showcases London landmarks such as King’s Cross Station that holds the Hogwarts Express, an inter-park transportation train, and entertainment that links the London Waterfront to the Island’s of Adventure if you have an inter-park ticket. The London Waterfront also offers some Harry Potter easter eggs like 12 Grimmauld Place where you can spot the house-elf Kreature in the window and the famous purple Knight Bus. A short walk to Leister Square will transport visitors from London to Diagon Alley. As guests cross into the wizarding world, the long alleyway of Diagon Alley appears with shopping and dining opportunities galore. Apart from the Hogwarts Express, the only attraction in this section of the theme park is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a 3-D thrill ride. Dining opportunities in this area are focused on quick-service dining with The Leaky Cauldron, an English tavern with Butter Beer and Pumpkin Juice among its highlights, as well as The Hopping Pot, which serves beer and other Wizarding World drinks. Apart from the immaculate immersion into the Harry Potter World, Diagon Alley also hosts live renditions of Tales of Beedle the Bard and performances by Celestina Warbeck. Before departing this area of Universal Studios Florida, guests should check out the innumerable shopping opportunities of Wizarding World memorabilia from Olivander’s Wand Shop. This shop is where guests can choose a wand to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes for unusual snacks and tricks to Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions for clothing needs.

Harry Potter Butterbeer
Harry Potter Butterbeer

The World Expo area offers guests a blast back to the past to the 1964 Worlds Fair in Queens, New York. Although this area is geographically smaller than many other areas in the park, it manages to fit in the Men in Black: Alien Attack ride, a laser-shooting ride. This area also hosts a Cocacola Refresh stop for a quick refreshment in the air conditioning.

The Springfield: Home of The Simpsons area is another fully immense guest experience that transports guests to the land of the animated series, The Simpsons. This area features two attractions - The Kang & Kudos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, an ariel carousel, and The Simpsons Ride, a virtual-reality roller coaster ride. For entertainment, The Simpsons area provides guests the opportunity for meeting the characters of the show as well as Midway Games, an arcade area. Dining options are on Fast Food Boulevard. Grab a bite to eat in this area at Moe’s Tavern, where guests can purchase the famous Duffy Beer (21+) or a nonalcoholic Flaming Moe. Lard Lad Doughnuts is perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

The Simpsons
The Simpsons (travelsavy.com)

Moving around the lagoon closer to the entrance, the Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone is the ultimate stop for guests with young kids. With four attractions, this area is full of fun opportunities for little ones. The E.T. Adventure ride takes visitors on a slow-moving dark ride through the adventures of E.T. A small rollercoaster, Woody Woodpeckers’ Nuthouse Coaster, is a perfect start for young ones to experience the thrill of a roller coaster. In addition to these rides, there is a playground and water splash area for recreation. Entertainment in this section includes various character meet and greets and photo opportunities. There is also a pizza station in the Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone if you need a bit to eat in between rides down the 200-foot waterslide.

The final area of the Universal Studios Florida park is the Hollywood Area which takes guests through the Entertainment capital. The Bourne Stuntacular, a Jason Bourne-themed stunt show, is the primary attraction in this area. Other entertainment options in Hollywood range from Univeral Orlando’s Horror Make-up Show and Character Party Zone. For dining, Hollywood offers some great quick-service options including TODAY Cafe, best for sandwiches and salads. Mel’s Drive-In is a 50’s themed restaurant with all your diner favorites like milkshakes, burgers, and fries. Shwab’s Pharmacy is another location where guests can get ice cream and a soda from this soda shop. Shopping in Hollywood allows guests to immerse into the Hello Kitty world or check out Williams Of Hollywood for vintage souvenirs.

Universal’s Islands of Adventures

Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure (orlandogazette.com)

The Islands of Adventure park is the second park created in the Universal Studios Orlando Resort opening in 1999. The park is one of the most highly visited theme parks domestically in the United States and globally. It is geographically similar to Universal Studios Florida in that the themed lands circumnavigate a central lagoon. Islands of Adventure consists of seven themed lands in clockwise order around the lagoon - Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing. Across the park are 17 attractions mixed with a plethora of shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities enclosed in seven thematic lands transporting guests across space and time.

The Port of Entry is the first stop when entering the park from the main gate and contains many guest services. The iconic landmark of the park, the Pharos Lighthouse, is located in this area. Themed as a prosperous settlement, Port of Entry provides a base for guests before exploring the various lands head with multiple choices of dining and shopping. A full-service restaurant, Confisco Grille and Backwater Bar features a variety of international cuisine from pork belly to chicken curry. Croissant Moon Bakery and Starbucks are great options for a quick bite before exploring the rest of the park. Shopping options include a Christmas store, gift shops, and a candy store.

Going clockwise around the large lagoon, Marvel Super Hero Island allows guests to live out their superhero dreams by riding along with the Hulk, Spiderman, and other Marvel Comics favorites. Adventuring around the Marvel island, comic-book architecture pops out as guests explore the four attractions, character entertainment, and American dining options. The Incredible Hulk Coaster is a thrill ride to remember with the speed of over 60 miles an hour. Another thrilling adventure through Marvel Super Hero Island is Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, a 185-foot tall stomach-churning space shot traveling nearly 40 miles per hour. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a 3-D scoop vehicle ride where guests swing on webs across New York City with Spiderman. For a more tame Marvel experience, Storm Force Acelatron is a tea-cup style ride with spins and twists. Dining in Marvel Super Hero Island consists of three quick-service stations like Captain America Diner, Cafe 4, and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. Captain America Diner offers American food like fries, burgers, and chicken tenders. Cafe 4 is an Italian restaurant. As the home of the Fantastic Four, Cafe 4 features character buffet dinners on select nights.

Toons Lagoon is accessible by continuing clockwise around the lagoon from Marvel Super Hero Island. Toons Lagoon themed on newspaper comics such as Popeye, offers guests water ride highlights. Be warned if you ride any of the attractions in this area, you will get wet. A similar comedic architecture and atmosphere continue in Toons Lagoon that provides an elegant and immersive shift from Marvel Super Hero Island. Popeye & Pluto’s Blige-Rat Barges is a water rafting attraction where 12 guests board a circular innertube and raft down Popeye’s river rapids. Me Ship, the Olive is a water play area perfect for kids and adults alike. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is a log flume attraction that takes guests on a floating log tour and drops 75-feet down the Ripsaw falls. For dining at Toon Lagoon, check out the four quick-service food stations- Comic Strip Cafe, Blondie’s, Wimpy’s, and Cathy’s Ice Cream. These four dining options provide a diverse menu set for post-water adventures.

Toons Lagoon
Toons Lagoon (orlandoinformer.com)

Moving clockwise around the central lagoon, Skull Island is a mini-land based on the King Kong franchise. This area has a singular attraction, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, a trackless dark ride that takes guests on a trip to Skull Island where King Kong makes an appearance. There are no shopping or dining facilities in this area. The tropical and dark atmosphere merge perfectly with the next island, Jurassic Park

The Jurrasic Park area allows guests to travel back in time to the dinosaur age and is filled with every adventurer’s prehistoric fantasies. There are five primary attractions in Jurassic Park - three rides and two entertainment opportunities. Camp Jurassic is a jungle-themed children’s playground where kids can cross wooden walkways, climb rope ladders, and shoot water cannons. Travel down a prehistoric river ride and a final steep drop down a waterfall with Jurassic Park River Adventure. Pteranodon Flyers is an attraction limited to those between a height of 36 and 56 inches tall or an accompanying adult. This ride features a gondola ride in the sky through the jungle and includes views of the park. The newest addition to Jurassic Park, VelociCoaster, is a launched roller coaster that twists, turns, and dives to reach a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour. Jurrasic Park Discovery Center is an interactive center for paleontology and dinosaur studies along with The Burger Digs, a burger joint located inside. In addition to The Burger Digs, Jurassic Park contains three more quick-service dining options. Thunder Falls Terrace features ribs and rotisserie chicken and is the highlight of dining on this island. Pizza Predattoria and The Watering Hole offer quick bites of pizza and refreshments from your jungle escapades.

Statue Hidding the Secret office of the Hogwarts Headmaster
Statue Hidding the office of the Hogwarts Headmaster

Following past Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade showcases immaculate attention to detail of the village of Hogsmeade as well as The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and its grounds. The Hogwarts Express - Hogsmeade Station is located just outside the entrance to this magical world. Guests with tickets to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida can board the interactive train for a ride through the English countryside to Diagon Alley. A giant archway indicates the guest’s arrival at Hogsmeade, a historic English village with lined shopping streets.

The streets of Hogsmeade are bound by a plethora of magical shops from the Harry Potter franchise. Honeydukes is a must-see for any visitor with a sweet tooth. Browse a wide selection of candy and baked goods from the series. Check out the Chocolate Frogs for a collectible character card and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans for surprise and unique tasting jelly beans. Dervish and Banges is a Harry Potter souvenir paradise stuffed with all necessary memorabilia. The Owl Post is a stationery store where guests can purchase a postcard stamped with a unique Hogsmeade postmark and ship home any souvenirs too big to carry home. Towards the Hogwarts Castle, the dungeon-themed Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods includes unique souvenirs and icons from the show. Finally, shopping in Hogsmeade would not be complete without a trip to Ollivander’s Wand Shop where guests can enjoy the entertainment of a “wand choosing” and purchase wands of your favorite characters from the series. If guests choose an interactive wand, they can follow the map to cast spells across Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley to explore hidden secrets and unlock easter eggs.

Portrait of the Fat Lady
Portait of the Fat Lady

For dining in Hogsmeade, there is The Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head Pub, a combined restaurant where wizards can get a refreshing ButterBeer or stick to the muggle drinks of choice, a specialty draft beer or fire whiskey. Finally, there are three rides in Hogsmeade. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a youth roller coaster taking guests on a ride through the forest on the back of a Hippogriff, a giant flying horse-eagle hybrid. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is a launch steel roller coaster flying through the Forbidden Forest with a host of characters and creatures from the franchise making an appearance. This attraction is notable as the most expensive roller coaster ever built at a cost of $300 million. It is the longest roller coaster in Florida which includes a stunning seven launches. Finally, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a motion-dark ride located at the far end of the land inside Hogwarts Castes. Guests wait in lines themed in locations within the Hogwarts Castle. The ride shifts and moves as riders move through scenes from the series like a Quittich flight and a Dementor fight. This ride is renowned and has been awarded first or second Best Dark Ride since its opening.

Mobile Cart Selling the Famous Butterbeer
Mobile Cart Selling the Famous Butterbeer

After guests have had their fill of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the next stop on the tour of Islands of Adventure is The Lost Continent, an ancient myth and legend-themed island. In this land, explore an ancient Greek city and a Middle Eastern bazaar. The singular attraction in The Lost Continent is Poseidon’s Fury, an indoor walk-through experience where guests accompany an archeological journey and get caught in the middle of a battle between Poseidon and Lord Darkenon. Also located on this island, The Mystic Fountain is a magical conversing fountain that may spray water at guests when given incorrect answers. Mythos Restaurant is a full-service restaurant and allows guests to indulge in a mix of American, Asian, and Mediterranean dishes. Fire Eater’s Grill and Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kebab House are alternative quick-service dining options. After a trip to a land of myths and legends, the final island covers the books and universe of Dr. Suess.

Seuss Landing is located just to the right of the Port of Entry and is our final stop around the Island of Adventure park. The Whimsical and fairytale world of Dr. Seuss where there are no straight lines is filled with attractions aimed at the younger park guests. This land also hosts familiar characters and experiences for adults who wish to relive their childhood memories. There are four attractions on this island geared towards young guests - The Cat in the Hat, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and the Caro-Seuss-el. A Musical show based on a variety of Dr. Seuss characters can be found at Oh, The Stories You’ll Hear. If I Ran the Zoo is an interactive children’s play zone with Seuss-themed play areas. There are also four quick-service dining facilities on this island. Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous carries fast food favorites like pizza and fried chicken. Green Eggs and Ham is a unique stop with specially designed food like Who Hash and a variety of tater tots with assorted toppings. Moose Juice, Goose Juice and Hop on Pop Ice Cream Shop sell quick drinks and snacks for those on the go.

Universal’s Volcano Bay

Krakatau Volcano