It wasn't all that long ago that Universal Orlando consisted of one place: Universal Studios Florida. Folks who visited the movie-themed park generally considered it an add-on to their Disney World vacation. There really wasn't much of a need to determine the best features about the park, because most visitors typically got to experience most, if not all, of its limited rides and attractions.
Planning a visit got a bit trickier in 1999 when the park expanded to a resort and opened a second theme park, Islands of Adventure, along with its first hotel, the Portofino Bay, and the CityWalk dining/shopping/entertainment district. Since then, Universal has continued to grow and now features many new rides and attractions, multiple hotels, a slew of restaurants, and enough other diversions to seriously challenge Disney World's supremacy in central Florida.
This poses a challenge to people (like you?) who try to figure out how to divide their time between Disney World and Universal (not to mention Legoland Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa, International Drive Rides and Attractions, and other enticing things to do in the area). Now, more than ever, visitors need to know the best features about Universal Orlando so that they can make informed decisions and get maximum fun and value.
We're not just talking about the resort's best rides and attractions. We're talking about all that Universal has to offer -- and it offers a lot. What are the best places to eat at the resort? Which of its hotels might make the most sense for you? When should you plan to visit? I cover all that and more below.
But make no mistake: Universal Orlando does have some spectacular rides and attractions. Since it opened the two Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, the resort has really upped its game and now occupies quite a few spots at and near the top of my picks for the best theme park attractions. (By the way, if you want to experience one of the Harry Potter-themed rides, you're going to need a special ticket. To know before you go, read my article, "What kind of ticket you would need to ride the Hogwarts Express?")
OK, on to the best of Universal Orlando.
01 of 07
As I mentioned above, many of the attractions aren't just wonderful in terms of what Universal has to offer, but are also among the best throughout the entire industry. From the groundbreaking The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man to the Potter attractions, to a host of others, the two parks have some astonishing rides. Here are the 12 best.
02 of 07
Compared to Disney, Universal amps up the thrills and features lots of in-your-face, wild rides. Some of its coasters, for example, rival the scream machines found at the Six Flags parks. If high-octane thrills are what you crave, these are ones you should definitely include on your must-ride list.
03 of 07
While Universal may not be quite as tuned in to young children as pirate-and-princess-happy Disney World, it does offer a good amount of diversions for the 10-and-under set. If you will have kids in tow for your trip to the resort, you'll want to check out this rundown of the best things for them to do.
04 of 07
It is as important to know when to go to the Florida resort as it is to know what to do once you get there. Nobody likes big crowds, waiting in long lines, or paying more for anything, especially when it comes to already expensive vacations. (Speaking of long lines, no matter when you plan to visit the parks, there are strategies to reduce wait times. Learn how to skip the lines at Universal Orlando.) Avoid the busiest times and consider coming during the slower seasons. I break it down for you.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
After a long day spent getting scared silly on roller coasters and coming face to face with Lord Voldemort, you're going to work up quite an appetite. Fortunately, Universal has some wonderful places to eat. Let's review the places you would want to chow down.
06 of 07
Visitors are not only carving out more time to enjoy all of the great things to do at Universal, they are also booking rooms and staying overnight at its great hotels (including the 60's-themed Cabana Bay Resort). While they are all wonderful, the properties vary in terms of amenities, aesthetics, price points, and other features. I offer a quick comparison and enumerate things to consider so that you could determine the best Universal hotel for your needs.
07 of 07
Maybe you're planning a Central Florida theme park vacation and you're on the line about where to stay. Should you book a hotel at Disney World, Universal Orlando, or some off-property accommodations? There are many compelling reasons to consider staying at Universal. Let's run down ten of the top reasons.