Universal Orlando: 10 Recommendations From First Timers

universal orlando

Let me teach you the ways. 😂

Just kidding. This was our first time and we learned some things the hard way. But now feel obligated to teach YOU what to or not to do.

Let’s go.

In case you are new and don’t know the backstory, here is a recap: We visited Universal for spring break 2021. Last week of March/ beginning of April – Monday through Friday. It was a last minute trip that we booked for our daughter’s 11th birthday. And to be honest, if it wasn’t for Dawn at Magical Memory Planners, I probably would have lost my mind.


Well, let’s just say that I thought Universal and Disney was one of the same (which is not.) So my recommendation number one is:

#1 – get a travel planner. Especially if it’s your first time. I did not know where to start or what to book. Her experience, background and suggestions really put things in perspective. She helped me navigate the parks, perks, hotels and more. I highly suggest contacting Dawn for all of your travel needs but especially for Universal and/ or Disney.

#2 – stay at an onsite resorts/ hotel. We stayed at one of Universal’s resorts, Cabana Bay. Which ended up being a great decision. Not only do you get early admission to all parks and transportation to and from the parks every 15 minutes until 1am. But also because it was right next to Volcano Bay. Literally steps away from our room and look at this view! If you choose to stat at Cabana, I highly recommend a room with this view.

Universal Resorts Cabana Bay hazeleyesmom.com

Universal Resorts Cabana Bay hazeleyesmom.com

#3 – download the Universal App. This will be your map and guide. It also holds your virtual tickets to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. So you don’t have to carry your tickets with you and it can be your back up too (for Volcano Bay you will want to bring your actual tickets.)

But this was honestly a game changer. It helped us find rides, shows, restaurants and shops so much faster. It also offers an option to see wait times and get into virtual lines. Order food and use it as your wallet too.

Official Universal Orlando Resort App

#4 – save some time to explore CityWalk as well. It is literally a city on its own. Anything you can think of, you can find here. Movie theater, restaurants galore, coffee, desserts, shopping, mini golf, clubs and probably a lot more. This is the center of Universal’s TWO parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. This is where you will enter and exit both parks. Universal Studios will be on your right, after you enter the center of CityWalk. And Islands of Adventure will be on your left. If you plan on doing any shopping, get a gift card. They had a special while we were there: buy $250 gift card and get a FREE wand ($70 value). Trust me, it’s really easy to spend $250, so get the GC.

Universal Orlando Map 2021
8 Reasons to Visit Universal CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort

#5 – get the Express Pass and Park to Park Tickets! They are pricey but so worth it. The park to park addition helped us go to any of the parks as many times as we wanted to for 3 days. The Express Pass we got for the last day and that was the best decision we could have made. Thanks again Dawn! This gave us an opportunity to get on any rides we missed the first day and some even 2-3 times.

#6 – make your lunch or dinner reservations ahead of time. Especially if you have any special occasions. We barely got two reservations but I can’t be mad. I made plans a few weeks in advance and I was happy with what we got. Big Fire was absolutely amazing and Vivo had some of the best pasta we’ve had in a while.

But have no fear, there are plenty of restaurants throughout the parks and outside of the resort. Delivery, pick up and sit down options too.

#7 – if you drive to Orlando, stop by the store and bring your own water, snacks and such. The prices at the hotel store/ restaurant for those things are quite high. For example, a bottle of water is $4. And for a family that only drinks water, that was a lot.

#8 – if you end up staying at any of the resorts onsite, take full advantage of the early admission. I know it’s early and hard to wake up but you already made the decision to come here, might as well enjoy the added benefit. You will still stand in line but not nearly as long as if you come during regular hours.

#9 – break up your days. We spent a few hours at Universal Studios the day we arrived. Familiarized ourselves with the park so we knew exactly where to go the next morning! First day was strictly dedicated to Universal Studios. Next day we spent at Volcano Bay and last day, we had an express pass and park to park pass, so we got to do Islands of Adventure and catch up on any rides we missed at Universal Studios. But pay attention to weather. We had a really good day for the Waterpark but if we had saved Volcano Bay for the last day, we would have missed out. It was super cold.

#10 – whatever you do, don’t panic. I did and it wasn’t necessary. It is overwhelming. It is a lot. But familiarize yourself with the app and the park maps before and you should be just fine. Also, look up some YouTube videos to get an idea what to expect. It’s fun. I promise!!!

universal orlando 2021

Thank you for reading my general tips for Universal Orlando. I will have more detailed blogs over the next few weeks. One for each park and Cabana Bay as well. So check back or subscribe and be the first to know. Also, check out how we got here in Our First Road Trip to Florida.

Let me know what you think in the comments below or if you have any questions.

Until next time.

x, Dijana

Universal Orlando 2021 @lifethrumyhazeleyes
Universal Orlando www.hazeleyesmom.com

About Author

Here is to honest motherhood, fun family adventures and parenting challenges. I can be sassy, moody and sarcastic but all with good intentions. Stick around and let's have fun together.

x, Dijana

(11) Comments

  1. Almina says:

    Love the tips! As much as it sounds overwhelming sounds like you had a great time!!! Glad you guys had fun!

    1. We really did

  2. I agree with so many of these things. Especially staying on property and getting the express pass. I will never go there without the express pass. It was such a time saver for us and when you have kids (and anxiety) it is worth every penny.

    1. Couldn’t agree more

  3. Lejla Hodzic says:

    Great tips! Glad you guys had a good time 🙂

  4. Amy Nicole (IG name- nicole51482 says:

    I 100% agree with tip #2 for Universal and Disney. We’ve always stayed on property and last trip (2018) we didn’t to save some money. Was a NIGHTMARE including the handicapped shuttle from our hotel left a Disney park early (5 minutes before we got there and 12 minutes ahead of schedule!) and the regular shuttle couldn’t take my wheelchair so we had to call an Uber to get back to hotel. Kids crying, husband TO’d, and me so stressed I passed out and fell out of my chair. Will ALWAYS stay on property from then on!

    And #5 we’ve never done, always figured it was t worth park hopper by the time you get to a shuttle, load, ride over, and go back thru security at new park. However we went with a group of 10 (in-laws, SIL and her kids, and our 5), and they raced thru my favorite part of Epcot (world showcase) and I was wishing so bad we had park hopper so o could have gone back to Epcot while everyone else did say 2 of magic kingdom! So park hopper is definitely on the list next time too!

    1. Oh man. So glad you shared that w me. I am sure many people can benefit from this info

  5. Jasna says:

    Great tips. We went to Disney world few years ago, and you definitely need to plan ahead. It was our favorite trip ever. We are hoping to go to Universal too.

    1. I hope you get to go to Universal too. It’s really fun. Despite the challenges haha

  6. Amazing tips – can’t wait to visit once this pandemic is behind us (she says hopefully)! 🙂

    1. I can’t wait to go back in normal circumstances too

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