Getting early access to Universal Orlando
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is by far the most exciting thing to happen to Orlando’s theme parks over the last decade. Its tremendous attention to detail, and the one-of-a-kind experiences it offers Central Florida visitors, has made Universal Orlando Resort more popular than ever.
Universal’s Volcano Bay, meanwhile, does to water parks what the Wizarding World has done to traditional theme-park lands. No visit to the resort can be considered complete without checking out both of these massive, game-changing additions.
If you’re planning a visit to either the Wizarding World or Volcano Bay during a time when there are moderate to busy crowds (see our FREE 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar) – and if either of these locations is one of your top priorities at Universal – then we strongly recommend that you get Early Park Admission.
This page offers a complete guide to Universal’s Early Park Admission, from an explanation of the basics to every detail you need to know to maximize its effectiveness. Let’s begin, well, at the beginning…
Early Park Admission to Universal’s Volcano Bay
Early Park Admission is now offered at Volcano Bay in addition to at least one (or both, depending upon when you visit) areas of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Those who qualify for EPA at the Wizarding World also qualify for EPA at Volcano Bay; the entire process is extremely similar.
With one key difference, that is. Whereas on-site hotel guests, vacation-package holders, and annual passholders are all eligible for early entry to Harry’s wondrous world, passholders aren’t able to get into the new water theme park an hour early. That’s right – the only way for locals (and out-of-state APs, of course) to secure a spot for themselves in Volcano’s EPA is to book an on-site hotel room.
UPDATE 11.30.17 – Early Park Admission to Volcano Bay now is only eligible for the front half of the park. This means that a number of attractions won’t be up and running until Volcano’s official opening time, including Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides, Punga Racers, Taniwha Tubes, Kopiko Wai Winding River, and TeAwa the Fearless River.
To find out if either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley (or both) is open during Early Park Admission for your visit, click on the date in our crowd calendar.
Why do I need Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World?
We can quickly answer this question with the following video:
While the video above may present a stronger contrast than you will likely see on an “average” day, the crowds you saw at the end of that video do occur quite often. The truth is, the Wizarding World is the most electrifying thing to happen in Orlando in years, and its popularity only seems to grow – especially with the opening of Diagon Alley in July of 2014. When the parks are slow, the Wizarding World is usually busy. When the parks are busy, the Wizarding World is crushed.
VERY IMPORTANT – speaking of Diagon Alley, we don’t have a video highlighting its Early Park Admission, but we can tell you the daytime wait for Escape from Gringotts during busier periods has routinely been more than two hours and occasionally over three.
How does Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World work?
Guests with Early Park Admission have the benefit of entering Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure (selected by Universal) an hour before the park opens to the general public. For most of the year, this means 8:00am, and the park opens to everyone else at 9:00am. During busier seasons, it shifts up an hour, and guests with EPA get in at 7:00am while everyone else gets in at 8:00am. It’s also possible for both parks to be open for early admission during busier seasons.
For the days when Early Park Admission is at Islands of Adventure, it’s satisfactory to arrive 30 minutes before Early Park Admission begins. If the Early Admission is at Universal Studios and you’re interested in being one of the first in line for Gringotts, you’ll want to arrive 30 minutes to an hour prior to Early Park Admission.
How do I get Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World?
There are three methods for getting Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World. Since there is quite a bit of confusion about this, we’ll explain all of the details. The first method is to stay on-site at one of Universal’s five on-site hotels: Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort, Sapphire Falls Resort, or Cabana Bay Beach Resort. All guests staying on-site, regardless of how they booked their rooms or which hotel they choose, get Early Park Admission as a on-site benefit (among other benefits).
The second method to secure Early Park Admission is to book a Universal Orlando vacation package. A vacation package must include at least accommodations and theme park admission tickets. As far as accommodations go, you can choose from over 40 Universal Orlando Partner Hotels. These Partner Hotels range from economical (Best Western) to luxury (JW Marriot). Villas, or family-suites, are also available at some properties (Floridays). With such a broad selection, you should definitely be able to find something to match your budget and style. Visit our guide to Universal vacation packages for more information.
IMPORTANT – please note that booking a Universal Orlando Partner Hotel on your own is not enough to get Early Park Admission. You have to book an Universal vacation package including accommodations at a Partner Hotel to get the Early Park Admission benefit.
Another note: Booking a Universal Orlando vacation package does not necessarily mean that you have to book it directly through Universal Orlando. Many third-party sellers and travel agents can sell a qualifying package to you. If you’re using a third-party, just be sure you get your E-Travel Document before you travel that states your Early Park Admission benefit.
Final note for clarification: You can also book a Universal vacation package including accommodations at one of Universal’s on-site hotels, and if you do so you will receive Early Park Admission. However, if you are staying on-site, you are not required to book a vacation package to get the benefit. You could book your room directly through Loews, through a third-party like Hotels.com, or any other number of ways. As we mentioned above, Early Park Admission is a benefit that all on-site guests receive, regardless of how they booked their rooms.
The third way is purchase a Universal Orlando Annual Pass. Both Preferred and Premier Passholders receive Early Park Admission. However, please note that there are blockout dates for Preferred Annual Passes. Premier Annual Passholders receive Early Park Admission every day of the year.
Early Park Admission Preferred Annual Pass Blockout Dates
The following blockout dates apply for the Early Park Admission perk for Preferred Annual Passholders. Again, Premier Annual Passholders have no blockout dates for this perk.
2016: September 3-5, October 8-9, November 19-26, December 17-31
2017: January 1-7, 14-16, 27-29, February 18-20, March 4, 11, 18, 25, April 1, 8-22, 29, May 27-29, June 3, 10, 17, 24, September 2-4, October 7-8, November 18-25, December 16-31
During my stay, when can I use Early Park Admission?
The Early Park Admission benefit is available seven days a week. In addition, you can use it each day you are checked in to your hotel, including your check-in and check-out days. So, if you book one night at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, you actually receive two days of Early Park Admission: the morning you check in and the morning you check out. We have helped many guests book one night at a hotel – even an economy Partner Hotel – just for the two days worth of Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World.
How do I go about using Early Park Admission on my check-in day?
There are two somewhat different answers to this question, depending on whether you are staying on-site or off-site. First, we will address the question for guests staying at one of Universal’s on-site hotels.
ON-SITE AT UNIVERSAL
Guests checking into one of Universal’s on-site hotels are able to check in as early as they please. Now, it’s good to know that rooms are generally not available until after 1:00pm. However, you can check in as early as you’d like. When you do so, each member of your party will be given a room key, which serves several functions: it’s your proof for Early Park Admission, it can be used for resort-wide charging, it opens the security gate when exiting the hotel’s parking area, and of course it’s a room key.
Since your exact room may not be able to be assigned to you until later in the day, the Front Desk Team Member will ask for your cell phone number. Later in the day, when your room is ready, you will receive a text like the one below and your keys are automatically activated.
But what about your luggage? That’s no problem either. Each of Universal’s on-site hotels have a Luggage Service Desk, and they will gladly hold your bags in a secure area free of charge while you head out to see Harry. (Note: Cabana Bay just uses their Front Desk for this.)
Finally, how do you get your theme park admission tickets? If you purchased your tickets directly from Universal Orlando, they will be waiting for you at an Electronic Will Call Kiosk. There is a kiosk located near the Front Desk at each of the hotels (see the image below). There are also electronic will call kiosks located at the front of each Universal theme park.
Please note that, if you are staying on-site, you must check in at your hotel before you go to the parks for Early Park Admission. If you do not go to your hotel first, you will not have your room keys, and that means you will not have your proof for early entry.
By the way, if you have a car, you are not charged any additional amount for parking so early in the morning – just the regular nightly fee for that night.
What time should you arrive at the hotel to get to the parks for Early Park Admission? If you’re staying at a property with water taxi, give yourself 45 minutes to check in and get over to the parks (note, we’re being conservative because we really don’t want you to miss any EPA time!). If you’re staying at Cabana Bay, give yourself an hour.
OFF-SITE AT A PARTNER HOTEL
If you have booked a Universal Orlando vacation package with accommodations at a Partner Hotel, you’ve got Early Park Admission! So how do you take advantage of it on your check-in day?
This is definitely a different procedure than we just described for on-site guests. If you are staying off-site, you do not need to check into your hotel room. Instead, you can proceed directly to the parks. You will pick up your tickets at the Electronic Will Call Kiosks located in front of Universal Studios Florida on your right-hand side as you approach the entrance (first photo below), or in front of Islands of Adventure to your right-hand side as you approach the the entrance (second photo below).
Once you have your admission tickets, you can proceed with them to the Early Park Admission entrance. It’s also a very good idea to carry your E-Travel Document with you – that’s the document Universal or your travel agent provides to you, which lists your package benefits. If there happens to be any confusion with your tickets, your E-Travel Document will show that you have paid for the Early Park Admission benefit.
What if I want to check-in at my off-site hotel before going to the parks?
If you want to check in at your off-site Universal Partner Hotel before you use Early Park Admission on your check-in day, you will need to verify directly with the hotel as to what their procedures are. Depending on the hotel, they may or may not be able to stow your bags, etc.
IMPORTANT: For off-site guests, there is one critical factor you need to know about the “complimentary transportation” that may be a part of your vacation package. In almost all cases, it will not get you to Universal early enough to take advantage of Early Park Admission. Here is the language directly from UniversalOrlandoVacations.com:
SCHEDULED THEME PARK TRANSPORTATION: Provided based on regular park operating hours* (does not run continuously) to UNIVERSAL ORLANDO® theme parks, SEAWORLD ORLANDO®, WET ‘N WILD® and AQUATICA via Super Star Shuttle. Seating/standing space is limited and on a first come, first served basis. Boarding passes required from the Attraction Ticket Center located in the hotel lobby one day in advance and up to 30 minutes prior to departure. *Not valid for Special Events, Groups or Early Park Admission.
If you are relying on the complimentary transportation provided as a package benefit, you need to verify exactly how it works with your hotel, travel agent, or with Universal’s vacation package department. (The good news is that most Partner Hotels are very close to the parks, so a cab ride will be inexpensive.)
If I use Early Park Admission, do I still have to get to the park early?
Yes! We can’t stress this enough. In the case of Diagon Alley and with the intention of riding Escape from Gringotts, we recommend that you get the turnstiles one hour before Early Park Admission begins. For the days when you’re not interested in getting to the front of the line for Gringotts or Early Admission is at Islands of Adventure, it’s satisfactory to arrive 30 minutes early, but no later. These times may sound very early, but it’s what you need to do to make the most of Early Park Admission.
And remember, Universal generally starts to let guests in 15 to 30 minutes before the scheduled opening time. So getting to the turnstiles “an hour early” may mean that you are only waiting for 30 minutes before you get into the park. But, don’t think that means you get an hour and 30 minutes inside the Wizarding World, because they do the same thing with the general public opening time.
What if I am not able to arrange Early Park Admission?
We recommend that you read through our How to ensure you trip to the Wizarding World is a success! page for more advice.
Early Park Admission at Hogsmeade – photo gallery
- Diagon Alley & Harry Potter return tickets – complete insider’s guide
- Early Admission to Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay
- How to ensure your trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a success!
- Interactive wands & spell-casting in the Wizarding World – complete guide
- Shopping & merchandise at Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
- The Leaky Cauldron at Universal’s Diagon Alley – insider’s guide
- The specialty drinks, meals, and desserts of Diagon Alley
- The Three Broomsticks & Hog’s Head (quick-service) at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter merchandise – complete guide to Hogsmeade
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter: 4 guaranteed ways to beat the crowds