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Universal Orlando 3-day touring plan for on-site guests Day 1

The purpose of this plan is to give families staying at an Universal Orlando on-site hotel a framework for the best way to experience Universal Studios Florida (USF) and Islands of Adventure (IOA) – and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – over the course of three days. This plan incorporates Early Park Admission, Express Pass access, and park-to-park admission, and it provides a break time in the middle of each day.

IMPORTANT: if this is your first time viewing this page, we highly recommend that you learn our overall strategy and let us answer some of the most common questions regarding Express Passes and whether you actually need to stay on-site to use this plan. To view this important information, skip down to the bottom of this page.

Finally, Universal features free resort-wide wifi and an updated mobile app that provides wait times. To download the app, follow these links: Android or iOS. You can also find published times for Universal’s shows on its website (keep in mind the times are only published approximately two weeks in advance).

You can review Day 1 below, or skip ahead to Day 2/skip ahead to Day 3.

For your convenience,
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1. Entrance to Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure
For Day 1 of our plan, we recommend that you get to the USF or IOA turnstiles at the scheduled opening time of Early Park Admission.

Once you get through the turnstiles, be sure to pick up a park guide map, which covers both theme parks and includes times for the live shows and many of the character meet-and-greets.

Early Park Admission

Depending on the time of year, on-site hotel guests and Universal vacation-package guests may be able to enjoy Early Park Admission (EPA) at Islands of Adventure and/or Universal Studios Florida. We recommend you check our crowd calendar or with the on-site hotel on your arrival to see which park(s) open early. To take the best advantage of this benefit, be certain to get to the turnstiles 30 minutes before EPA starts.

If Early Park Admission is at Islands of Adventure:

Head directly towards Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

1A. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – Ep (Express Pass) Sr (single rider)
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade

Restrictions and access: 48 inches; loose articles must be stowed in the free lockers inside Hogwarts Castle; has Express Pass access and a single-rider line. Summary: the first part is a tour of Hogwarts Castle’s most iconic rooms. The second part is a revolutionary flight simulator.

Once you have ridden Forbidden Journey, begin heading towards the Universal Studios Florida turnstiles.

If Early Park Admission is at Universal Studios Florida:

While almost all guests will be heading for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, we’re taking a different approach. We’re going to first experience the other attractions at USF with the highest wait times, and continue to enjoy the best of the park outside of Diagon Alley. Remember, this is part of a three-day plan, so it isn’t necessary for us to stampede directly to the Wizarding World at the crack of dawn on Day 1.

It’s also important to note that, of all the attractions that offer Express Pass access, Despicable Me’s EP wait time is by far the highest – sometimes half of the posted standby time (so if the posted standby time is 90 minutes, the EP wait times could be 45 minutes!). Keep in mind Despicable Me is the only attraction where EP wait times get this high; for every other attraction that offers it, EP wait times are usually 0-15 minutes, regardless of the posted standby time.

As soon as you enter the USF turnstiles, you’ll see Gru’s house…

1B. Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem – Ep
Production Central

Restrictions and access: 40 inches to ride the motion simulator; otherwise, there are stationary platforms available; must be 48 inches to ride alone; has Express Pass access. Summary: join Gru and the girls in this family-friendly 3D simulator ride featuring an all-new storyline, new animation, and plenty of Minion shenanigans.

As Early Park Admission ends, we’ll continue to explore USF’s Production Central.

Tip: if you happen to have Express Passes that are only good for one use per participating attraction, it may be smart not to use them if the early-morning wait times are low. That way, should you happen to have some extra free time later, you can return to these rides and possibly use your Express Pass access then.

2. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – Ep Sr
Production Central

Restrictions and access: 51 inches; must stow loose articles in free lockers just past the attraction’s entrance; has Express Pass access; usually has a single-rider line; also has a front-row line. Summary: high-speed outdoor roller coaster where you pick your soundtrack.

Since you’re not in a big rush to try to fit in all of USF in one day, consider waiting the few extra minutes for Rockit’s front row. Rely your request to the team member who asks you how many people are in your party.

3. Transformers: The Ride – 3D – Ep Sr
Production Central

Restrictions and access: 40 inches; has Express Pass access and a singlerider line. Summary: as a NEST recruit, jump into this intense, 3D simulator experience and prepare for battle alongside Optimus Prime and Bumblebee.

Listed next is the Transformers photo op. We wanted to note that this one will involve a bit of chance because the Transformers character schedule isn’t published by Universal. What’s more, there are three different characters that may appear. For these reasons, be sure to check with the team members stationed nearby to find out when your favorite Transformer will be emerging.

4. Transformers photo op
Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee, and Megatron emerge for one of Universal’s best photo ops. One character appears at a time, and, unfortunately, Universal doesn’t publish a schedule.

We’ll now exit Production Central and continue our touring in the New York backlot.

5. Revenge of the Mummy – Ep Sr
New York

Restrictions and access: 48 inches; must stow loose articles in free lockers adjacent to the attraction’s entrance; has Express Pass access and a single-rider line. Summary: a not-to-be-missed high-speed indoor roller coaster.

After exiting Revenge of the Mummy, circle back to New York’s entrance, where we’ll find

6. Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon – Ep
New York

Restrictions and access: 40 inches; has Express Pass access. Summary: a standard (albeit funny) motion-simulator ride that has you, well, racing through New York City against Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon. Beforehand, experience one of the best queues in all of Universal Orlando.

Note: if you don’t have an Express Pass, you won’t be able to simply stroll right onto Jimmy Fallon; instead, you’ll have to nab a return time, either by using the official Universal Orlando app on your smart phone or by stopping at one of the kiosks stationed next to the ride’s entrance. You can still do this at this point in the touring plan, however.

Let’s now backtrack to Revenge of the Mummy and then continue on toward the lagoon and on to the San Francisco backlot. Once you pass Richter’s Burgers quick-service restaurant and the attached candy shop on your right, you’ll see a small “pier” with another quick-service stop: Chez Alcatrez (look for the blue awning). On this pier, just behind Chez Alcatrez, you’ll find…

7. Bruce the Shark photo op
Tucked slightly behind Chez Alcatraz, on the pier next to Richter’s Burgers, the giant shark statue from the old Jaws attraction is a classic photo opportunity.

Once you’ve got your photos, continue right across the way to our next stop.

8. Men in Black: Alien Attack – Ep Sr
World Expo

Restrictions and access: 42 inches; must stow loose articles in the free lockers adjacent to the attraction’s entrance; has Express Pass access and a single rider line. Summary: Men in Black is a shooter ride where you are the newest MIB recruit.

9. The Simpsons Ride – Ep
World Expo/Springfield, USA

Restrictions and access: 40 inches; has Express Pass access. Summary: motion-simulator ride chock full of characters straight from the show and generous portions of Simpsons humor.

10. Kang & Kodos’s Twirl ‘n Hurl
World Expo/Springfield, USA

Restrictions and access: 48 inches to ride without an adult; Express Pass access. Summary: silly humans are “captured” and forced to “attack” their fellow man using the flight path of their flying saucer to activate targets.

11. Moe’s Tavern or Duff Brewery
World Expo/Springfield, USA

Should you feel so inclined, now would be a fun time to check out the specialty drinks and crafted-just-for-Universal Duff Beer served at these two establishments.

If younger guests want to do some indulging of their own at Springfield, order the Brain Freezin’ D’oh-nut Sundae at Lard Lad’s Donuts (beneath the huge Lard Lad statue).

12. Free time
It should now be around noon, and we’ve got free time! You may head back to your hotel to relax, take a swim, eat lunch, check out CityWalk, etc. If some people in your party wish to stay inside the park, we have these dining recommendations for lunch:

Finnegan’s Bar and Grill is the fan-favorite, full-service restaurant located in New York, directly across from Revenge of the Mummy. Highly recommended!

Not interested in full-service? Then we recommend Fast Food Blvd. This quick-service dining venue is located across the lagoon in Springfield, USA, and it offers the widest variety of food in a single restaurant, not to mention some pretty wacky theming (huge hit for Simpsons fans!). If you’re not quite up for fried food, Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, right down the way, is just as good. To get there from the New York backlot, walk toward the London waterfront of Diagon Alley and cross the bridge.

13. Return to Universal Studios Florida
The time you return to USF will be based on park hours. If the park is closing earlier – say, at or before 7:00 pm – you will want to return by 2:00 pm. If the park is closing after 7:00, you can return at 3:00.

Upon entering USF , take a right and proceed through the Hollywood backlot.

14. USF character photo ops
Hollywood Blvd is home to many of USF’s character photo ops, including Curious George, Scooby and Shaggy, the Simpsons, Hollywood icons, Men in Black, and more. Unfortunately, there isn’t a published schedule, so just keep your eyes open any time you walk through or near this area.

15. E.T. Adventure – Ep
Woody Woodpeckers KidZone

Restrictions and access: 34 inches; has Express Pass access. Summary: gondola-style dark ride designed to appeal to younger guests but considered a beloved classic by many older Universal fans.

The time has finally arrived: prepare to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Depending on your family’s interest in Harry Potter, you should be arriving at this point in the touring plan with two or three hours left before park closing.

Now it’s time to discuss our mini-plan for this area. In case you haven’t got a chance to read our full explanation at the bottom of this page, one of our goals is to embrace the Wizarding World’s one-of-a-kind “centrally themed, multi-park” experience. To do so, you’ll see that we’ve essentially split our first two evenings between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. It’s our belief that doing so is the only way to fully appreciate how Universal has brought Harry’s story to life.

So, as we enter the London waterfront, be aware that you’ll have the opportunity to visit Diagon Alley again at the end of Day 2 and as much as you want on Day 3. In other words, don’t pressure your family to try and do everything here during this one visit.

16. Sights and sounds of Diagon Alley – part 1
See the sights of the London waterfront, including the Knight Bus with its conductor and interactive shrunken head, and 12 Grimmauld Place (keep an eye out for Kreacher!). Upon entering Diagon Alley, explore the shops and the streets.

One of your first stops should be…

17. Ollivander’s Wand Shop
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley

Restrictions and access: none; does not have Express Pass access. Summary: meticulously-themed boutique where the wand chooses the wizard.

At Ollivander’s Wand Shop, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase an interactive wand, which you’ll be able to use throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. If you’re familiar with the Ollivander’s show and want to skip it, you can still go into the shop to buy a wand.

18. Interactive wands and spell-casting
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley

Summary: display your wizarding talents with your new interactive wand as you magically affect the displays in various storefronts and, possibly, other secret areas. Note: you’ll need to purchase an interactive wand at Ollivander’s or Wands by Gregorovitch to participate.

19. Sights and sounds of Diagon Alley – part 2
Catch the live entertainment in Carkitt Markett (Tales of Beedle the Bard and Celestina Warbeck), taste the treats of Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlor, and slink your way through the creepy corners of Knockturn Alley.

With approximately two hours left before the parks close, and with our Wizarding World school supplies in hand, we’re going to exit Diagon Alley and follow Harry’s footsteps as we ride the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade Village! To get to the Hogwarts Express, you’ll need to exit Diagon Alley, walk back through the London waterfront, and find your way to King’s Cross Station.

Are you asking yourself, “Wait, what about Gringotts Bank?” Don’t worry – we haven’t forgotten. We’re simply saving that featured attraction for tomorrow’s visit; tonight, we’re going to Hogsmeade, where we’ll experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. 

20. The Hogwarts Express – Ep
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade (Hogsmeade Station)

Restrictions and access: none; even wheelchairs and ECVs are allowed. Summary: the famous train takes guests on a magic journey from Muggle London to the wizarding village of Hogsmeade and back (note that each ride is one-way; guests wishing to return to IOA will need to exit the train, queue again, and re-board).

Exit the Hogwarts Express at Hogsmeade Station and enter Hogsmeade Village. After stopping to take a photo with the conductor at the entrance to the village – and, perhaps, after taking a peek in to Honeydukes – proceed to Hogwarts Castle.

21. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – Ep Sr
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade

Restrictions and access: 48 inches; loose articles must be stowed in the free lockers inside Hogwarts Castle; has Express Pass access and a single-rider line. Summary: the first part is a tour of Hogwarts Castle’s most iconic rooms. The second part is a revolutionary flight simulator.

22. Dinner – The Three Broomsticks
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade

Summary: stop in for traditional British fare. If you have a big family, the restaurant’s signature offering, the Feast, can feed six people!

This brings us to the end of Day 1. Pretty incredible, wasn’t it? As you leave Islands of Adventure for the evening, you’ll get a tease of all the new attractions you’ll get to experience in the morning!

You may skip ahead to Day 2, skip ahead to Day 3, or review our important information below.

Understanding our three-day plan

Here, we provide an explanation of our goals and the overall strategy of our three-day plan.

First and foremost, it’s important to know that our three-day plan is just that – a plan for three days at Universal’s theme parks. As such, one of our primary goals is to spread out the best experiences at Universal over this time period, so your second and third day can be nearly as exciting as your first.

Another goal of ours is to embrace the Wizarding World’s one-of-a-kind “centrally themed, multi-park” experience. To do so, you see that we’ve essentially split our first two evenings between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. It’s our belief that doing so is the only way to fully appreciate exactly how well Universal has brought Harry’s story to life across its two parks.

Adding to our desire to have you experience the Wizarding World at its best, we’ve also planned our visits to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in the evening. It’s almost universally agreed – and certainly our belief – that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is even more magical once the sun goes down.

Finally, because we’re able to spread our touring over three days, we’ve included free time in our plan, when you can return to your hotel or do as you please.

What if I don’t have Express Passes?

This plan is written for guests with Express Pass access. It’s likely you already know that unlimited Express Passes are a benefit guests receive when staying at three of the six on-site hotels. However, this complimentary benefit is not extended to guests staying at Cabana Bay Beach ResortAventura Hotel, or Sapphire Falls Resort because of their value/moderate pricing.

So, can you still use this plan if you’re staying at those three properties? Yes, you can, but with this extra condition: understand that during busier parts of the year, you will encounter long waits at Universal’s most popular attractions. During these times, in an effort to make our plan work best – and to help you really enjoy your vacation – we recommend that you consider purchasing Express Passes. The most convenient option is Universal’s park-to-park ticket + Unlimited Express, which you can learn all about in our complete guide to Express Passes. In addition, you will also want to view these pages: our 12-month Universal crowd calendar and attraction wait times based on crowd levels.

Note: if you’re staying at Cabana Bay, Aventura, or Sapphire Falls and visiting when crowds are forecasted to be moderate or slow, we do not consider Express Passes necessary to complete this three-day plan – you might just need a little hustle in your step, is all.

What if I’m staying off-site?

Yes, you can still use this plan if you’re staying off-site. Just keep in mind these important factors: first, depending on your travel plans, you may or may not have access to Early Park Admission, so you’ll need to adjust the plan accordingly. (If you’re not sure about EPA, see our guide.)

In addition, the same advice we offered to Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Aventura Hotel, and Sapphire Falls Resort guests regarding Express Passes also applies to your situation: understand that during busy periods, you will encounter long waits at Universal’s most popular attractions. During these times, in an effort to make our plan work best – and to help you really enjoy your vacation – we recommend that you consider purchasing Express Passes. The most convenient option is Universal’s park-to-park ticket + Unlimited Express, which you can learn all about in our complete guide to Express Passes. In addition, you will also want to view these pages: our 12-month Universal crowd calendar and attraction wait times based on crowd levels.

Finally, make sure you’ve coordinated transportation so you can arrive at Universal early enough to take advantage of the lighter morning crowds. If you’re parking and walking, allow yourself 20 minutes from the time you enter Universal property to walk to either park’s turnstiles.

Thanks again for using our touring plans. You may skip ahead to Day 2 or skip ahead to Day 3.

Do you have a question about the information on this page, would like to provide feedback, or did you spot an inaccuracy? Join us in our Facebook Community and let’s talk about it!