Can you do Universal in 1 day? Obviously, it would be ideal if you could spend more time in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure but if you have limited time, is it really worth visiting?
The answer is that it is definitely doable to visit Universal Studios Orlando if you have just one day available.
You may think visiting Universal Orlando in one day may not require as much preparation as a full trip. If you want to make the most of your short stay, however, it may be even more challenging.
You still need to do a lot of the same type of planning, only on a smaller scale.
Plus, you have a significantly reduced timeframe. If you want to visit the two main theme parks, Universal Park and Islands Of Adventure, there are several things to consider.
Since the resort is meant as a multi-day destination, you will have to make some sacrifices in order to visit Universal Orlando in one day.
This means either dropping a whole park or glossing over the two parks without too much time investment in either.
Still, even though you may miss out on a lot, you can still get a lot done and have a fantastic time.
In order to make your one day at Universal Orlando most enjoyable, here is a helpful guide to see you through so that you can have the best possible time during your abbreviated stay.
Before You Arrive at Universal Orlando
Saving time is so essential to getting the most out of one day at Universal Orlando. That means having a firm plan before you go in so that you can make all the necessary ticket purchases and add-ons ahead of your arrival.
When you buy tickets online for Universal you not only save money, but you also don’t have to wait outside the gates when you get there.
Instead of standing in line to purchase tickets, you can just walk right through the turnstiles.
Also, aim to arrive at the park gates around 30 minutes before opening time.
Make sure that you leave plenty of time for getting from the parking lot to the gates – it can be quite a walk, depending upon which parking garage you are in. And you also have to allow time for getting through security.
Using the App
I recommend that you download the Universal Orlando app and familiarize yourself with the park layouts and the app features before you arrive at the resort.
The Universal Orlando app is the best way to interact with the park virtually. You can get the lay of the land and break down which areas you want to visit and for how much time.
It’s essential to get the most out of Universal Orlando in one day.
You can also save time via the app by using it for mobile orders at theme park eateries. That way, if you time it right, you can skip the lines at counter-service restaurants.
In the past, the Universal App has offered Virtual Lines, but this was rare, and we haven’t seen this feature for a considerable time.
It acts like Disney’s Lightning Lane or Fastpass, where you hit a button on your phone and reserve a time to go to an attraction.
You will then get a QR code to scan at the entrance when your time comes up.
Keep in mind, this is different from Express Pass.
Attractions that have virtual lines don’t have a standby line. The idea is you don’t have to stand up for a long time in a boring queue.
Instead, you can go explore the rest of the park until it’s your turn to ride.
You don’t cut the line like Express Pass.
Be aware though that a lot of the time, Universal doesn’t offer virtual lines. I just put this information in just in case.
Should I Buy Universal Park-to-Park Tickets?
Park-to-Park tickets let you hop back and forth between the two parks on the same day (keep in mind, that this excludes Volcano Bay).
It’s essentially Universal’s equivalent to Disney’s Park Hopper tickets.
If you purchase Park-to-Park tickets, you will have a lot of ground to cover doing Universal Orlando in one day. Luckily the two parks are right next to each other, so there is not a lot of travel between them.
You can also ride the Hogwarts Express which seamlessly connects Diagon Alley with Hogsmeade.
The trick to maximizing time is to avoid zig zagging too much from one place to another.
This is why it is important to plan your day so that you aren’t spending too much time walking between attractions that are far away from each other.
It’s so easy to go back and forth between the two parks, I’d say buy Park-to-Park tickets. You’d miss out on a lot if you just went to one park.
What Should I Do If I’m A Harry Potter Fan?
Also, I think if you’re a Harry Potter fan you really should buy Park-to-Park tickets.
There are two Harry Potter-themed lands Hogsmeade in Islands Of Adventure where you can see Hogwarts, and Diagon Alley in Universal Park, where Harry Potter And The Escape From Gringotts is located.
You can get a lot out of just visiting one of the Harry Potter-themed lands, but you’ll miss out on a ton if you just go to one.
If you can only go to one though, I’d go to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.
Should I Buy a Universal Express Pass?
As you make your ticket purchases, consider saving time with the Universal Express Passes.
They’re a little pricey, but they’re good value because you get to go in the shorter lines for almost all of the attractions at Universal.
They’re like Disney’s Lightning Lane passes, but so much better.
At Disney, you’d only get maybe 3-6 Lightning Lane passes.
With Express Pass, you get to go on almost any ride at any time. So you don’t have to wait hours for your reservation, like with Lightning Lane.
There are two kinds of Express passes.
The basic pass starts at $89 to $349, and Express Unlimited ranges from $99 to $379.
(Double check the Universal website here for prices, as they’re subject to change).
The unlimited version of the Express pass entitles you to unlimited use at every participating attraction. The basic pass allows each attraction only once.
At Universal Studios Park, Express Pass includes Despicable Me, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, Hollywood Rip Ride Rock-it, The Simpsons, Transformers, Men in Black, and more.
Virtually every attraction at Islands of Adventure is also included but these attractions are not:
- Pteranodon Flyers
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure are not.
Right here is a full list of the attractions that have Express Pass.
If you have a basic Express Pass, be mindful of the crowd conditions so you don’t waste a one-time pass on a walk-on ride.
If an attraction has a posted wait time under 20 minutes, consider using the standby line, especially if you think you may want to ride again later.
Which Universal Park Is Better?
If you’re going to just one Universal Orlando Resort park for the day, which one do you pick?
This is very difficult to decide as both of them have so many great attractions.
It’s ultimately down to personal preference.
However, in my opinion, I think Islands of Adventure has more modern attractions that are way more fun. Plus, the Harry Potter land, Hogsmeade, has more attractions than in Universal.
Universal Park doesn’t have a huge variety of attractions and it has way too many simulator attractions.
Therefore, I’d recommend Islands of Adventure.
What Are The Best Attractions?
Here, I’ll list 5 must-do attractions at each park. I think in order to have a full experience of Universal Resort, you should prioritize these rides.
Even if you don’t have a Park-to-Park ticket, you will still have a great time riding the best rides in each park.
You’ll have an easy time getting to all these attractions even if you don’t have Park-to-Park and as long as you get there early in the day.
Best Attractions at Universal Studios Park
1. Harry Potter And The Escape From Gringotts
This is both a 3D motion simulator and a roller coaster. It takes place during the daring heist sequence in The Deathly Hallows Part 2 where Harry and his friends try to steal a Horcrux from Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault.
2. Men In Black: Alien Attack
A spinning shooter ride based on the Men In Black series where you fight aliens in Manhattan.
3. Revenge Of The Mummy
Themed after Brendan Fraiser’s “The Mummy” franchise, Revenge Of The Mummy is a thrilling roller coaster through an ancient Egyptian temple.
This is probably the scariest ride at Universal, with a roller coaster section in complete darkness, mummies all over the place, and one sequence where an army of scarabs covers an entire wall.
4. Transformers: The Ride – 3D
In this attraction, you’re put right in the middle of a climactic battle between the Autobots and Decepticons.
It’s basically a motion simulator like The Simpsons Ride or Star Tours, but it’s on wheels and it can spin.
It combines practical and 3D effects to create an immersive experience where you won’t believe your eyes.
5. E.T. Adventure
This one is a fan favorite. You soar on a bike and live out some of the iconic scenes from E.T. You even get to visit his home planet.
Best Attractions At Islands Of Adventure
1. Harry Potter And The Forbidden Journey
Soar over Hogwarts with Harry Potter and live out some of the iconic moments from the movies. This ride really makes you feel like you’re in a Harry Potter movie.
It uses Kuka arm technology to simulate the feeling of flight, which you can see in a similar example below.
Don’t worry – the one used in Forbidden Journey is much tamer and it doesn’t go upside-down.
Velocicoaster is an intense roller coaster based on the Jurassic World series. This is considered to be one of the best roller coasters in the world.
It has two launch sections, a top hat, four inversions, and a near-vertical drop. It’s incredibly thrilling and is sure to please all adrenaline junkies.
3. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
Hop on Hagrid’s motorbike and zoom through the Forbidden Forest. This is another amazing roller coaster that has a backward drop, seven launch sections (which is currently the world record), and a free-fall drop.
This is considered the best Harry Potter ride by many fans. Try to ride it at night if you can – that’s the best time to ride it!
4. The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man
Similar to Transformers – The Ride: 3D, this ride combines practical effects with 3D screens to immerse you into the world of Spider-Man.
This is a personal favorite of mine. There are only a few rides where I truly feel like I’m immersed in another world. This is one of those rides. It’s action-packed, it’s thrilling, and the effects are amazing.
5. Jurassic Park River Adventure
This is a peaceful boat ride that takes you to see the wonders of Jurassic Park – just kidding, you know it’s not going to be peaceful if it’s Jurassic Park.
You’ll see massive dinosaurs in the wild that tower over your boat. All of it ends in a climactic 80-foot drop in the dark.
It is the ultimate Jurassic Park experience.
How To Make The Most Out Of Your Day
Try not to get too stressed about doing as much as you can in one day. Again, even if you don’t manage to get a lot done in a day, you’ll still have fun.