• Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando

Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando

Luiz Alberto H.

Created: Feb 14, 2024

Last Updated: Apr 25, 2024

Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando

Getting to Universal Orlando

Now that we know a bit more about Universal Orlando, there is an important question that lingers in the air: how do we get there?

How do we go past those beautiful gates to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure so we can finally sing the Jurassic Park theme song, or cast Wingardium Leviosa in the middle of a queue so we are the first ones in line for the Harry Potter rides?

Well, first you need to figure out when you want to go to Universal Orlando. We already told you about the best dates to visit Florida, so that’s nice. After that, though? Well, you can drive to Orlando, if you live near Florida, but most guests will probably get on a plane to visit The Sunshine State.

Universal Studios Krustyland 2.webp

It’s usually a good idea to buy your plane tickets about three to twelve months before your visit. This way, you can save money and still have plenty of time to plan your itinerary and even book restaurants and hotels several weeks in advance.

This is extra important for Epic Universe, Universal’s new theme park which will open in 2025. In theory, this theme park will open Summer 2025, but there is a good chance that it will be delayed as well. I’d wait for an official opening date and, as soon as you have that, it’s time to book plane tickets and a place to stay.

If you board a plane to Orlando, you will be taken to the Orlando International Airport (MCO). From there, you can head directly to your hotel or rented property. Universal is only about 40 minutes away from the airport.

You can also choose to fly to Miami, Florida, and then rent a car and drive to Orlando. Plane tickets to Miami are usually cheaper than the ones that go directly to the Orlando International Airport, so you can save a few bucks this way, and you also have the chance to visit one of the biggest cities in Florida. Driving from Miami to Orlando should take you around 4-5 hours.

Where to Stay

You will need a good place to stay and dream with all the magic wands you will buy at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There are several options for places that you might stay near Orlando, and here we present to you the main ones.

  • Standard Hotel
  • Universal Resort Hotel
  • Rented House/Property

Every option has several advantages and, honestly, just small disadvantages. I will say upfront that my favorite option is a Universal Resort Hotel, and I’m not even saying this because we are a (great) travel company.

Universal Orlando Portofino Bay.webp
Universal's Portofino Bay

I just think that Universal Hotels offer great perks to guests. You can enter Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure one hour before anyone else (as opposed to only 30 minutes when it comes to Walt Disney World’s Early Entry) and most of their hotels are located ten minutes away from each theme park, which is awesome. You can just wake up, have a nice breakfast and walk there.

There is also the fact that most gated communities available for rental are located in Kissimmee near Walt Disney World.

You know what’s a good strategy? You can always stay in a Universal Hotel for about four days, visit both Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure and then move to a rented property or a Disney Hotel so you are closer to Disney World. Let’s be honest, if you are visiting Universal, then there is a good chance you will also go to Disney World, and it’s always better to stay close to the theme parks you want to visit.

Let’s check the options in detail.

Standard Hotel

Recommended for: people that want to save money, small parties.

Not recommended for: big groups.

One of the most common options when you are traveling abroad. A good hotel takes time and patience to find. There are way too many options and different prices, even if you are just browsing Booking.com. Speaking of prices, they will vary A LOT depending on availability and time of year.

When browsing hotels, it’s important to check a few things. First, see if the hotel is closer to Disney or Universal, and the time it takes to get to either park. Second, check if the hotel offers free breakfast. This can be a really good way to save money and postpone your lunch to a later hour, when lines are shorter at your favorite restaurant inside Universal. Oh, it’s also a good idea to see if the hotel offers free parking, otherwise expect to pay around $20 per night if you need a parking lot.

A good, cheap option for a quick vacation is the Quality Inn hotel. Don’t expect anything similar to Cinderella’s Castle, but it gets the job done. There is nothing special about it, but we never had a problem with it either. You get a small room, twin beds, a microwave, a bathroom and that’s it. Perfect for college students or just someone that wants to save precious money. Their hotel chain almost always offers free breakfast (I love the waffles) and also free parking, all for around $130 a night. Not bad at all.

A better, more expensive option is the Drury Plaza Hotel. You are looking at around $250 per night, but the accommodations are great and you get an amazing free breakfast. The downsides are that parking costs $25+ taxes per night.

Universal Orlando Resort Hotel

Recommended for: people that want to enjoy theme park perks, if you don’t want to drive to Universal, people that want to relax above all else.

Not recommended for: groups that want to save some money.

There are multiple resort categories if you want to stay on property at Universal Orlando:

  • Basic
  • Moderate
  • Deluxe

Since this is a guide aimed at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, I do have a great recommendation for a place to stay if the Universal theme parks are a big part of your holidays. You just can’t go wrong with Universal’s Aventura Hotel. This is a hotel with an almost 9.0 rating on Booking.com, located inside Universal as it belongs to the entire complex. I wouldn’t call it cheap – on an average night, you will spend around $280 plus taxes. There are, however, very good perks for staying there.

Universal Aventura Hotel Bistro.webp

First of all, it takes a ten-minute walk to reach both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You even get a side entrance for hotel guests only, which stays pretty much deserted and you can walk right in after showing your belongings. If you prefer to chill a little bit, you can get into one of the boats provided by the hotel which will lead you to Universal’s CityWalk. It takes longer than walking – I’d say fifteen minutes or so – but it still beats waking up early and driving all the way to the parking lot. 

Parking perk

Speaking of that, you don’t need to worry about parking fees while you are staying at the Aventura Hotel, which means you will be saving $30USD per day! Yeah, theme park-ing is very expensive across Florida and this amount basically increases every year, so you can now save thirty bucks and instead buy two chocolate frogs at the Harry Potter store. What a deal!

Early Entry Perk

Wait, there is also a third perk for being a Universal Orlando hotel guest: you get a one-hour early admission to Islands of Adventure! The same perk was also available to Universal Studios not that long ago, but it’s been a few months since I last saw early admission available there. You should definitely check this link to see which theme park and rides will be open if you do have access to an Early Entry. 

Universal Portofino Bay 2.webp
Leaving Portofino Bay and going to Universal Studios in style

Please note that only a handful of rides will be working during this special period, but at least they are the best and most recent ones. Looking at Islands of Adventure, this means you can ride the VelociCoaster or Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventures before anyone else. The queues should be around twenty minutes once you make your way there, which means that once you exit the ride you can experience it again before the park is officially open.

Before anyone says my family owns the Aventura Hotel, I will say that it’s not the right place for everyone. First of all, it can be a pretty expensive hotel if you plan on staying multiple days with a big number of guests. The Aventura can also be a sketchy choice if you plan on visiting Disney several times – which is most of us. Universal isn’t that close to Disney, and expect a 30-40 minute drive from Aventura all the way to Disney World, which can get tiresome. Last but not least, you have to pay $15 per night if you are a guest and wish to park at Aventura.

As I said before, a good decision I’ve personally made in the past and works well is to stay at the Aventura Hotel for three to four days and get your daily doses of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Once you are done with that, move to a hotel close to Disney World so you can save on time and money.

A few other Perks

Deluxe hotels also offer exclusive perks, depending on where you want to stay. Are the rooms more expensive? Sure. The Loews Royal Pacific Resort, for example, costs around $690 (plus taxes) per night, but you also receive a free Universal Express Unlimited so you can skip the regular attractions on most rides. We will talk more about this later on, but this is a FastPass service similar to Disney Genie+. Some deluxe hotels also offer character dining, where someone like the Minions or Gru can join you for breakfast.

Rented Houses / VRBO / AirBNB

Recommended for: big groups, people that want more privacy, people that are staying in Florida for weeks, if you want to prepare your own food and do laundry.

Not Recommended for: small groups, people that don’t want to do groceries and spend time with laundry.

Rented houses are the perfect option for big groups, guests that want a little bit more privacy or if you are planning on staying in Florida for more than ten days. As it happens with hotels, prices do vary a lot, but you are looking at something around $300 per night. I said that rented houses might be a good choice if you plan to stay for more than a week since a few owners might give you a discount if you plan on staying for several days in a row. It’s also a good choice for large groups of friends traveling together if they want to share the expenses.

Townhouses in particular are a big deal now in Florida and a good option for a party of 6-10 guests. Don’t know what a townhouse is? It’s fine, I learned about them not that long ago too. Townhouses are basically part of a gated community, sharing common amenities like a swimming pool, a bar or a restaurant. The apartments are narrow and made of two to three floors, offering a good number of bedrooms for up to three families. They are usually clean and come with a washing machine, a stove and anything else to make it feel like you are in your own home.

The Magic Village Yards in Kissimmee is a good example of a gated community made of townhouses. I stayed there in March 2023 and had a good experience overall. Bonus points since the Magic Village is relatively new, so the houses aren’t even five years old and you get the feeling that everything is fresh and clean. The only problem is that the Magic Village is closer to Disney than Universal, and you’re looking at a 30min drive to reach both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

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