For many of us, an Orlando vacation would not be complete without a stop at both Disney World and Universal. Here are my tips for adding a visit to Universal to your Disney World trip.
Why Add Universal to a Disney World Vacation?
First off, in case you’re wondering if it’s worth taking some time from your Disney World vacation (or adding time on) to visit Universal Orlando, for many guests I think the answer is ‘yes’.
If you like any of these things, you’ll like Universal: Harry Potter, thrill rides, humorous rides, superheroes, Minions, the Simpsons, dinosaurs, water rides – I think you get the idea.
Universal has a bit of an edgy vibe and is a really great compliment to the parks over at Disney World.
How Many Days to Visit Universal Orlando
There are two theme parks at Universal: Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Unlike at Disney World, these theme parks are adjacent so it’s really easy to walk between them and see both on the same day.
If you only have one day to visit Universal Orlando you can cover a lot of ground, especially if you have a Universal Express Pass. However to really see everything without being rushed, I think it’s best to have at least two days at Universal Orlando.
When assessed on a cost-per-day basis, one-day tickets are much more expensive than multiple days. And Universal often offers deals such as get four days for the price of two. So your park admission may not go up very much when you add another a day or two to your ticket.
When to Visit Universal During Your Disney World Vacation
Once you know how many days you’d like to spend visiting Universal, you’ll have to decide when to add this into your time in Orlando. If you choose to stay on-site at a Universal hotel, I recommend adding this to the end of your trip. If you’re visiting Universal while staying at Disney World or elsewhere in Orlando you can add it in whenever you’d like.
Where You Stay Impacts Your Plan
There are three options for where to stay when you add Universal to your Disney World vacation: stay at Disney World, stay somewhere else in Orlando, or stay on-site at Universal. My recommendation is to stay on-site at Universal, but you can absolutely visit the parks if you stay at Disney World or elsewhere in Orlando.
Visiting Universal from Disney World
Staying at Disney World when you visit Universal can have advantages. You can go to Universal in the middle of your vacation to break up your Disney days; you get to enjoy the “Disney Bubble” every night of your vacation; and, depending on where you stay, it may be cheaper to stay at a Disney World hotel than to stay at Universal.
The downside to staying at Disney World when you visit Universal Orlando is the travel time to/from Universal; you can’t take a hotel break in the middle of the day; and you don’t get the early admission and other perks that on-site hotel guests get.
Visiting Universal From Anywhere in Orlando
Many Orlando visitors choose lodging outside of Disney World or Universal property. This gives lots of flexibility around adding Universal park days into your vacation.
Travel time to the Universal parks will of course depend on where your lodging is located. Take this into account when you plan your park day. And as an off-site visitor you won’t receive the early entry perks that on-site Universal guests receive.
Beat the Crowds by Starting Early in the Morning at Universal Orlando
Especially if you don’t have a lot of time, the most efficient way to tour any theme park is to be the first one there. This is absolutely crucial if your main objective is visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Be at the gate well before the park opens. If you’re not staying at Universal, make sure you take into account your travel time, including the walk from the parking garage, when you plan your day.
Guests who stay at Universal Orlando hotels get early admission to at least one of the theme parks every morning. This means that if you aren’t a Universal hotel guest, even if you are first in line for park opening, you will not be first into the early entry park.
Be sure to consult the early park admission calendar on Universal’s site when planning your day at Universal. If you are not staying on-site, start your day at whichever park does NOT offer early admission. Be there at least 30 minutes prior to the official opening time – Universal usually starts letting guests in about 15 minutes early.
If both parks have early admission when you visit, that means Universal’s expecting big crowds. Definitely consider purchasing an Express Pass to help you bypass a lot of the lines. (Note that some of the Universal hotels offer free Express Passes to their guests, which can make a stay at these hotels very cost-effective).
This is probably a good time to suggest you check out my 33 Things to Know Before You Visit Universal Orlando.
Getting to Universal from Disney World or elsewhere in Orlando
Disney World is located about 15 miles from Universal Orlando. Depending on traffic and where on Disney property you stay, you should expect about a 30-60 minute drive between Universal and your Disney World hotel.
If you have a car, be sure to add enough time to park and get to the Universal gate. It is a bit of a trek from the parking garage, about 15 minutes’ walk depending on the space you get.
If you don’t have a car, you can get to Universal via taxi or Uber. First thing in the morning it may take a few minutes for your ride to arrive and collect you at your hotel, so be sure to account for this when you set your morning alarm.
A taxi or Uber will drop you off at the Universal Orlando parking garage so expect a 15 minute walk to the park gate from there.
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Here’s a map of the trip from Disney World’s Port Orleans Resort to Universal
Adding a Stay at Universal to Your Disney World Trip
If you plan to visit Universal for more than one day I highly recommend spending the night in one of the on-site hotels. Besides spending more time in bed – since you won’t have to drive to the park in the morning – staying in an on-site Universal hotel offers many perks.
Every guest at the Universal hotels receives early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Plus several of the Universal Orlando hotels offer an additional valuable bonus: free Universal Express Passes for all guests. You can read more about this in tip #2 of my 33 Things to Know Before You Visit Universal Orlando post and on episode 2 of the Go Informed podcast.
A very important fact when you consider adding a stay at Universal to your Disney vacation is that these perks apply for every day you will stay in the hotel – not just the number of nights you stay.
Stay One Night at Universal and Get Two Days’ Worth of Perks
If you have a hotel reservation for Thursday night, you are eligible for early admission at the Universal parks on BOTH Thursday and Friday mornings. And if you stay in an Express Pass hotel you will get Express Passes for BOTH Thursday and Friday. As soon as you check-in you will have these benefits.
So when you think about adding Universal to your Disney World trip, know that just one night at a Universal hotel gives you two days’ worth of related perks. One night in an Express Pass hotel gives you two days’ of Express Passes. Check the math and you may see that your hotel rate might be cheaper than the cost of Express Passes for your family.
If budget is a concern, adding a stay at Universal to the end of your trip can be more cost-effective than adding it to the start. Since you can arrive at your Universal hotel early in the morning, check-in, and receive the benefits, you could spend the night before in a less expensive lodging and minimize the number of nights you stay at Universal.
On our last trip we stayed at Disney World’s Pop Century resort for four nights at about $100/night, then moved to Universal’s Portofino Bay for one night at about $300/night. On the morning we changed hotels, we got up early and checked in at Portofino Bay at 7:00am (When you arrive this early the hotel calls this “pre-registering”. Your room probably won’t be ready but you can leave your bags with bell services). We had only paid $100 for our night’s rest and were able to get our Express Passes and be at the gate for Universal Studios Florida early admission before 8:00.
More Information About Universal Orlando and Disney World
No matter where you stay, a visit to Universal Orlando is a magical addition to your Disney World vacation. Be sure to read my other tips about visiting Orlando, including:
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