What’s the best day of the week to visit Universal Orlando Resort? This might be the most popular question we’re asked by guests who are planning their vacations.
On this page, we will walk you through all the factors to consider in deciding when to visit, and we’ll also dispel some widespread misconceptions that might make the difference between an average trip and a truly fantastic vacation. We’ll run through every item in order, from most to least important, that will influence crowd levels and your ability to manage them at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Volcano Bay.
The single biggest factor in ensuring that you have an enjoyable, positive experience at Universal Orlando is to plan ahead. The fact is, a surprising number of visitors do not plan their theme-park vacations beyond a rough sketch, and while it’s true that Universal is smaller, more compact, has fewer guests, and is less complicated to plan for than a jaunt to Walt Disney World Resort, the world-class attractions at Universal still draw immense crowds (particularly at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter).
Here is a quick example from the thousands of tips on our site, and it shows how a tiny bit of planning can be a huge help. On a typical moderate-to-busy day at Universal, this is what the line to buy tickets looks like at the entrance to Islands of Adventure:
That’s an hour wait, just to buy tickets and to get inside the turnstiles.
It is so easy to skip that line – all you have to do is purchase your tickets in advance. But get this: if you buy your admission beforehand, you also save money off the gate price on any multi-day pass. A typical family can easily save $80 or more getting their tickets in advance, and they get to skip that crazy line pictured above!
Here’s a little more: purchasing in advance doesn’t mean you have to get your passes weeks ahead of time. You could be standing in the line pictured above, hop on your phone, and buy your tickets from an authorized seller (which counts as an advance purchase). You’ll save money, and you can get out of that huge line and use the electronic will-call kiosks to quickly print your admission.
That’s one tiny example of how you can save time and money – and have a better vacation – by doing your homework. We have so much more expert advice that we’re excited to share in the OI Universal Center!
Choosing the right time of year
FACTOR: VERY BIG
The second-largest variable that will affect crowds is the season you are visiting. There is a reason that, on some days, Universal’s theme parks are only open until 7:00 pm and Express Passes are only $70, while, on other days, the parks are open until 10:00 pm and Express access is $169. Additionally, theme-park attendance is seasonal and this should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not Express Passes would be a good investment for your family. (Pro tip: Staying at select Universal Orlando Resort hotels automatically grants members in your party Express Passes.)
If you’re buying a single-day pass, you’ll first need to know which day of the year you’ll be visiting Universal Orlando – the resort moved to date-based ticket pricing in August 2020, which means each of those 365 days can potentially have a different price tag. And if you’re angling for a multi-day ticket, you’ll still need to know the starting date of your trip, although the subsequent days won’t likewise be tied to specific dates (you’ll just have a general window of time to finish using up your pass).
(Is it impossible to tie your vacation down to an exact date or date range? That’s no problem – for a little bit of a premium, Universal offers a Flexible Ticket, which is good for any time of the year.)
Luckily, when you go to buy your admission, the ticket retailer will walk you through the steps of selecting your (first) day, and you can look at different options to evaluate how the pricing affects your family. This is useful for our purposes here because how much that (first) day runs can give you an insight into the days that Universal thinks the crowds will be lower.
Interestingly, there’s a misconception that serves as a counterpoint to this factor: don’t automatically assume that coming at the slowest time of the year is the best plan. In our opinion, we think it is best to visit when the crowds are moderate; doing so will ensure that there are enough people around for there to be plenty of “excitement in the air,” and Universal’s unique brand of excitement is one of its incredible features. In addition, more guests usually mean longer operating hours, more open restaurants and kiosk options, and higher staffing for the parks.
All in all, the season you are planning to travel in will have a significant influence on crowd levels and your ability to have a good time. Be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on the subject, as well as our Universal crowd calendar and our in-depth breakdown of Express Passes, and pick the right time of the year for you.
Being aware of special events
Each year from mid-September through early November, Universal hosts its annual celebration of all things spooky and terrifying with Halloween Horror Nights. On various evenings throughout the week (typically, every night except for Monday and Tuesday), Universal Studios Florida closes early for this hard-ticketed event, where guests can explore haunted houses and be chased through the streets by chainsaw-wielding psychos. But besides their contents, what is particularly noteworthy about these fiendish festivities is their dates – right smack dab in the middle of what would otherwise have been a slow period for Orlando’s theme parks.
The lesson here is that you must take special events into consideration when planning your trip. In addition to Halloween Horror Nights, there is a whole host of other annual celebrations that occur every season; families who book their visits during these proceedings could be overwhelmed by busier-than-expected and early-closing parks. Similarly, continuing the Horror Nights example, a family of horror fans who didn’t know about the festivities may have scheduled their vacation in mid-November, only to find out that their horror-obsessed teens could have participated if they had planned their vacation just a few weeks earlier.
Some Universal events are bigger than others, and some may work to your benefit in terms of avoiding crowds – but you have to be aware of them to know how to plan appropriately. Consult our annual events section to find out what’s happening, and when, and – most importantly – how to use them to optimize your trip.
Planning for the weather
In Florida, the weather can change dramatically in very short periods. A heavy downpour in the middle of the day may clear out guests who either aren’t prepared for rain or who are ready to head out, resulting in lower crowds and wait times for the afternoon. Rain forecast for the entire day may prompt guests, especially locals, to choose a different date to visit.
It’s worth noting that, while most attractions at every Universal park continue to operate in light-to-moderate rain, a thunderstorm in the area requires outdoor rides – including practically all of Volcano Bay – to close until the storm has cleared the area. (Rainstorms have a particularly strong impact on crowd levels at Volcano Bay, where you’ll find – if you can time your visit to arrive just after the storm – significantly lower wait times.)
This is all to say: do not let a little rain in the forecast (or, even, rain predicted for the entire day) cause you to falter in your plans. Only all-day-long thunderstorms should give you pause and make you possibly rethink your theme-park plans. Visit our page on weather at Universal Orlando for average temperatures, rainfall, and more expert advice.
Arriving early and/or staying late
It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first day of July or the last day of February – theme parks are always busiest in the middle of the day. Even on a low-crowd day, if you arrive at the parks at 10:00 am and have to leave by 3:00 pm, you’re going to end up feeling like you hit a really busy day. That is why it’s always best, regardless of what other factors are involved, to get there early and/or stay late.
Luckily for guests staying at Universal Orlando hotels, you are a hop, skip, and a jump away from your room. This makes it so easy to tour the parks from opening until noon, take a break in the middle of the day to swim or nap, and then return to the parks from 4:00 pm to close.
Check out our Universal hotels section for so much more resort information. (And, if you’re interested in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, our ideal plan for seeing all of Harry’s wondrous world makes great use of this strategy.)
Selecting a day of the week
We have finally reached the factor that many guests think is the crucial item to beating the crowds.
We can’t tell you how many discussions we’ve read where first-time visitors to Universal ask, “What day of the week is the slowest?” thinking that this golden nugget of info is what they need to have a smooth day at the parks. While there are some theories out there about which day of the week is, indeed, the slowest at Universal Orlando Resort, the truth is that – after taking into consideration all the elements above – the day-of-the-week variable has a very small impact.
However, to answer the question to the best of our abilities, a common operating theory is that most families take a week-long vacation to Orlando, and that they start at Walt Disney World, leaving just a day or two at Universal for the end of their trip. If these families travel to Orlando on Saturday, they might take four days to cover the four parks at Disney, putting them at Universal by Thursday or Friday. Locals tend to visit on Saturdays, or when they’re not at school or work, bumping up the crowd levels on weekends and minor holidays.
But you, dear reader, now know that to chase the perfect day of the week is a fool’s errand. Armed with the planning advice in this guide, along with the 300+ pages of information in our OI Universal Center, you’ll likely have a great time, no matter what day you visit.
The bottom line is that if you have taken into consideration every other factor – planning ahead, choosing the right time of year, researching any special events, and getting there early and/or staying late – well, then you are in a better position than most other Universal guests. And that, our friends, is what will make the difference between the vacation of a lifetime and one you may regret.
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